Wearing a T-shirt and my true self

1538572_888920627832957_1203832633_nI vowed a few years ago to stop wearing T-shirts with corporate logos and designers’ names plastered on them. I didn’t want to be a walking advertisement for Tommy Hilfiger or Ralph Lauren. It almost seemed offensive that I would pay a designer to advertise for him. In general, I don’t really want to be noticed for what I’m wearing, so lately I’ve been going to understated.

But part of my vow was to wear T-shirts to show my support for the things I love. The sports franchises that I have fallen for are beneficiaries of my loyalty. I love wearing Phillies, Eagles, and Sixers stuff. When I see someone, especially in a different town, wearing my teams’ colors I get pumped up. It’s like I have a friend automatically.

I have a fun time being loyal. There are all sorts of random things that I feel some sense of loyalty to: America’s Test Kitchen, Volkswagen, the Reading Terminal Market. I suppose for those corporations and businesses, I’m down with showing off my love for them.

And those aren’t the only things. I just got a Palmer Theological Seminary hoodie for example. I’m proud to wear my Schummer Sunoco and Pathways To Housing T-Shirts. Sporting my Drexel art therapy shirt that Kristen gave me feels good too. And of course, when I wear my Take Back Vacant Land and Development Without Displacement shirts, I’m supporting a political cause that has a lot of meaning for me.

The same goes for Circle of Hope. I have three of our T-shirts and I love wearing them, not just because they start good conversations, but because they help me feel like I’m part of the tribe, part of the family. For me, it’s an important reminder of who I am and why I was created. This may seem a little dramatic, but something about wearing a T-shirt (and a cross around my neck) reminds me of my citizenship in the Kingdom of God!

To use Paul’s phrase, a phrase that may go down as one of the most inclusive statements ever written, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Jesus’s death and resurrection truly created into a new humanity and a new identity. Wearing the same T-shirt is part of that reminder, but it’s about our attitude too. Rather than clamoring for individual rights (as if that is where our salvation comes from), I think we need to find a new humanity in Jesus in order to overcome the oppression of the individualized and atomized world.

I think we need to advocate for the least among us because Jesus is in them, just like he says in Matthew 25. We advocate for them because they are part of the New Humanity, they are part of the family. That radical expression is hard to believe in this world. Most of us are resisting getting sucked into the domination system. Individualism is how we resist, perhaps. But in my opinion, the way that the powers-that-be dominate us is to atomize us. Joining a movement that’s committing to creating the divine alternative, in my opinion, is a great way to resist.

T-shirt wearing is a good place to start. But you can’t wear the revolution. You can’t just put on a shirt and call it a day. But perhaps as you don a shirt representing your people, you may put on your true self and remember that you are representing the risen One too!

Ten reasons why you should make a commitment

My friends and I were discussing a very interesting article the other day. It’s one of the click-bait articles that is designed to generate traffic to a website: 10 Reasons Why This Generation Is Losing The Ability To Be In Love.

One of the arguments my friends made against this article is that marriage is outdated and stupid anyway. I tend to agree with them. After all, if it’s a policy or a piece of paper that is going to make you committed to someone, how weird. If that’s how we are going to work out the relationship—through a contract (one that is repeatedly and easily broken), then whatever. If our definition of commitment begins at contract, then marriage is kind of stupid. If you want to be satisfied because the right words are on a piece of paper, you are throwing the Holy Spirit away! My friends thought that, true, maybe millennials can’t fall in love, but whatever, who wants that anyway?

Another argument, one that I often make, is that it’s hard to tell statistically whether people are actually no longer falling in love and staying in a long-term marriage.  It seems to me that people are still entering marriages, it’s just that they aren’t called that, they don’t’ come with a ring or a $20,000 wedding. There isn’t paperwork involved, but for many couples what they have arranged (sometimes even when they aren’t living together) is a marriage.

I think to be in a community in a committed way we need to make our “yes” a “yes” and our “no” a “no.” That commitment should be known. I think the radical thing about following Jesus is that we acknowledge that our lifestyles and commitments affect all of us and subsequently we should all be in the know about what we have committed to.

You very well might be married, but if your sex is secret and no one knows about your relationship I think you might be missing the point. The value in our commitment to community is that it’s known. If your commitment needs to be hidden (could be your commitment to that beer you need every night or a hit of your bowl that takes the edge off in the morning), it may be less honorable and probably even damaging. We need to agree, even if that just means we start by agreeing to agree.

We want it to be out there, so that our friends can help us know when we are straying from the agreement and realign us. It’s like when Paul is addressing the Galatians in the first chapter of the critical letter he wrote to them.

He starts off his letter with an exhortation to the people of Galatia who have strayed from their commitment. The people who have strayed from the Gospel. They are moving toward a different Gospel. They said “yes” to Jesus and now they are saying “yes” to something else. I suppose for some of us commitment is that easy to switch. We can be committed to one thing and then just switch to the other the next day: could be partners, philosophies, friendships, whatever.

Paul is exhorting them to such a huge degree that he even says if an “angel” (or messenger) from heaven comes and seduces them to believe a different idea—curse them! We are doing a specific thing together and it’s easy to get enchanted by something else.

I think that happens to us all the time. Especially when things get slow or stale. We get enchanted by something else. That might be why we don’t want to make a commitment.

The aforementioned article that I was lampooning earlier says that millennials are too concerned with instant gratification to fall in love. I suppose we can’t make a commitment because it’s not as immediately satisfactory as we wish it were. I’m not sure how endemic that is, but I think sometimes we have problems with our commitments when feel less than exciting.

Sometimes we might think we are just passive participants in them. We judge the church, for example, to see if it will be a good fit for us to consume, and then we decide to no longer consume it once we’ve used it up. We don’t see ourselves as participants. We haven’t even made a commitment to ourselves. We’re jumping in the water and seeing where the tide takes us, but we’ve forgotten that we also have the ability to navigate the water.

I think some others might be afraid to make a commitment because they don’t know what’s going to happen. They aren’t sure they can make the plunge because they don’t know what’s on the other side. They are afraid to jump off the diving board or get in line for the roller coaster. They might die, but they might just get hurt.

I think it makes sense for us to demonstrate love and care for people where they are and where God might be taking them. Who knows what will happen.

As a way to end this, let me respond to the click-bait article with my own click bait: here’s why I think you may want to make a commitment, what we call a covenant—a dialogue of love—to community.

  1. God committed to us. He committed to us when he created us, loved us, held us in a law meant to protect us, offered his own son to us, and gave us the chance to be resurrected. All of that is centered on God’s desire to love us in a committed way. His followers’ commitment for millennia after is why we’re still doing this now.
  2. You get to say it out loud. People know your “yes” is a “yes,” but more notably so do you. You are aware of it and you then think about what it means for you too and what it means to everyone around you. You get to be held accountable. Your out-loud declaration even gives you a chance to work out yourself too. When you commit to be together, you can figure out who you are alone.
  3. It gives you a mission. A commitment to community isn’t just about who we are, but what we do. You are agreeing to do your part in the family business. It becomes our collective vocation. No need to run the rat race anymore. You realize that your commitment is about a mission and not just getting the right friends.
  4. You can participate in something bigger than you are. Something bigger than your feelings. Something you can’t just consume. Commitment to a relationship or to Jesus and his body gives you a chance to be more than you are. To stop looking into your tininess to find your salvific hugeness. You don’t have to solve the problems by yourself.
  5. You are reminded that you matter. It’s not just about doing something bigger, it’s about knowing that you count. It’s about taking yourself seriously, that your presence is felt and your contribution is a big deal. Committing to love means you’ll get some back.
  6. It creates safety. Making a commitment is like ordering pizza, we know who is pitching in and who we can count on. It’s so good to know who all wants pizza. The worst thing happens when only a few people say “yes” and chip in and then a slew of people want it once they smell it. One the other hand, sometimes we’ll get way too much pizza and not realize that only a few people want it.
  7. It gives us a chance to not just get in but also get out. A community of commitment and covenant is one that has a porous wall. The importance of a wall that is porous is that, first, you can get out and in. Secondly, it gives you a sense of what it means to enter or not.
  8. It gives us an opportunity to be conscious. It gives us some awareness and definition. We are no longer doing things unconsciously, we are intentional. That’s why defining the terms of a relationship is important.
  9. In a world where many people are privately committed, it creates an alternative. It’s radical to do something that is based on love, not violence, not a contract. Something you don’t always “feel” like doing. Moving beyond the American impulse to be individualized, autonomous, subject to our own choices. It’s radically connected.
  10. It gives you a chance to belong. You can be a part of a community in a way that is really unquestionable. You can certainly be in without making a commitment, but it gives you a chance to be a member of the Body of Christ in a way that’s named and known.

Letting our actions speak for us

Judgmental, hypocritical, anti-gay. Millennials choose those three words to describe the church. In an era of people increasingly losing faith and a construction of personal realities (which is really just a submission to some other evangelical force), building the church can be hard. Especially with such a bad reputation.

So often our words are hypocritical and judgmental that sometimes I think it is better to let our actions do the talking. Though they may not be perfect, I think they often do a great job of convincing people to follow Jesus.

We want to be incarnational. By that I mean we want to be the body of Christ in a tangible way. The incarnation of Jesus is a great action by God to show the world that he loves us. He sent his Son to be with us, to connect with us, to die for us. Those actions ended up speaking much more loudly than the law that preceded them. The resurrection of Christ might be the greatest action of all!

11138652_10204067902565635_5030472419025380502_nDuring this season of Eastertide, I think we do well to let our actions speak for us. One of Circle of Hope’s goals this year was to participate in compassion acts all over town. We at least want to have four big ones. On MLK Day, we participated in a march for education equality, ending stop-and-frisk, and pushing for a higher minimum wage. And just this last weekend, we were doing our part in the citywide cleanup. Adorned in our Circle of Hope T-Shirts (and giving them away), we wanted to be known for the good work we are doing. Not so that we can brag, but so that someone can join us in a practical way. It’s not a covert operation, it’s an inclusive one. Those kind of deeds help us live out our proverb: Generating justice and hope in our neighborhood must be at the heart of us.

We hope compassion is among the first things people notice about us. As I mentioned before, when people notice our compassion, I think Jesus gets a good reputation. Our good work benefits not just our mission, but the world’s view of the church and Christians. We are doing our part in undoing the reputation that the church repeatedly tattoos itself with.

Whether rich or poor we are united in demonstrating the gospel through justice, not merely talking about it. More than just a matter of theology and doctrine, we want the gospel to be known through what we are doing and demonstrating. Say all you want about the resurrection of Jesus, but if you aren’t practicing it and resurrecting the dying world around you, I’m not sure how convincing you will be.

We are obliged to speak out against unjust laws and practices that oppress people and ruin creation. Though I’m not sure that the government and the state offer us the best way to change the world, their laws and practices can certainly hurt the world and the people in it. I think our job is to be conscious of what they are doing and pressure them to do the right thing. They are too powerful to ignore. Part of being the alternative is telling the powers that be about what we are doing and hoping they’ll change their minds.

We do not generally hand out resources; we extend a resourceful hand. We want to create systematic changes, not just ones that put Band-Aids on problems. By transforming people, Jesus makes them owners of the family business, not just consumers.

In the United States the sin of racism impacts all we experience. It is a fact of life for which the dominators are accountable. The greatest sin of the United States is racism. It’s an old, hundreds-year-old scar that affects all of us. If we aren’t set on embracing people into the New Humanity and New Creation, we are missing a major philosophical road block for many people.

Our compassion teams and mission teams have the “right to die,” that is, they are not obligated to create a permanent program with interchangeable participants. Finally, our compassionate efforts are not the result of an obligation from headquarters. They weren’t born in a steering committee meeting or in a board room. They are the result of your passion. If you want to do something, we’ll give you the resources, advertising, and even people power to make it happen. If you are over it, we’ll be over it too. On one hand, it’s only as important as you think it is, and on the other, there is a time to live and a time to die.

The main reason I’m sharing this with you is that I hope you will participate in the work we are doing and you will tell the world about it. Let’s do our part in changing how people think of the church and the Jesus’ world redemption project.

The endlessness of forgiveness in Christ

We are in a great period of the liturgical calendar. As we bask in the Morning Star’s resurrection and await for the Spirit to descend, we are contemplating and considering how to be a community together. Tricia got us going with a conversation about conflict on Sunday. I want to add to the dialogue.

One of the many discourses of Christ that Matthew places is his famous Gospel, account is Matthew 18. Some call it “instructions for the church,” I might call it, “how to live in community. Matthew starts off with Jesus’ basic rule of his backward kingdom (verse 3): “whoever takes the lowely position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” This is a radical expression, because children are all of little legal or moral standing. They aren’t hated in Ancient Palestine, but I’m not sure anyone would call them respected. Jesus answers the disciples incessant question about places of honor and being the greatest with this backward approach (fast-forward to chapter 20 to see him do this again when John and James ask for a special seat in Jesus’ Kingdom).

He then begins to consider children and those that society might call the “weak” ones. Jesus protects the young at heart and the young in faith, and if someone who is more experienced or considers themselves on a higher ground get in their way, well the Lord won’t hold back his judgement. The very kind of exaggeration Jesus makes in verse 6 and 8-9 are exactly that. They are meant to invoke a reaction and deliver a point. The modernists may disagree as they try to find literal meaning in the text, but I don’t think Matthew’s audience takes it this way. Rather, Matthew is convicting the arrogant Jewish audience that belittles the least among them—the poor, the so-called pagans, and anyone else that doesn’t fit into their social class and status.

Jesus continues in this radical chapter and tells his audience that his Father in heaven is such a good shepherd (a powerful image to an audience that very much respected King David, also a shepherd) that he would go chasing after just a single sheep and leave the rest of the flock behind. It is a kind of play on the prophet Nathan’s exhortation of King David when the King sleeps with Bathsehba and kills Uriah. Nathan tells David about a wicked ruler who stole the single sheep of a poor shepherd to add to his huge flock of sheep Jesus is telling us that his father in heaven has the opposite mentality.

So after laying it on thick with imagery of humility and love, Jesus finally gets a little practical and offers us perhaps the most straightforward lesson about forgiveness. It seems like the figurative images end here because Jesus truly doesn’t want his message to be missed. Here’s what I’m learning from Jesus about conflict and forgiveness in Matthew 18.

  • It is not about getting justice, it is about giving love away. If someone has sinned against you and you go into the conflict ready for a battle where you achieve a just end, you may end up disappointed. It’s not about getting yours, but rather coming to an understanding so that forgiveness prevails.
  • Jesus plainly puts the burden on the individual who was sinned against. Sometimes we feel a sense of entitlement when we are hurt. We think the person that offended us should very well know that we are hurt and we wait for them to bring up the conversation and beg for forgiveness or apologize profusely. Jesus puts the burden on the individual who was sinned against. If you are sinned against, go and talk directly to the person about it. No one is a mind reader and although some people might approach you if they think they hurt you, that kind of anxiety does little to help someone work through a conflict.
  • Jesus expects you to have a degree of self-awareness. Sin is the key issue here. When approaching a conflict we move toward knowing how we are feeling, why we are hurting, and how someone else intersected with it. One person wondered what to do if they were hurting and they thought their pain was about a conflict with someone else, should they just “have it out” to figure it out? I’m not sure that’s so appropriate. I think we give it our best thought and use the resources around us to make ourselves as aware as possible.
  • Jesus sets out a very deliberate path to have a conflict, so tread carefully. Sometimes the less-than-assertive will feel ready and entitled to have a fight because they have held back for so long. So with their knuckles white and tears streaming down their face they start their screaming match. I suppose they might say, “I never get to do this!” That kind of outburst is rarely helpful, and doesn’t even make us feel much better (often more amped up). Jesus sets out a deliberate path and we should be as deliberate.
  • Don’t be quick to mediate, or as Murray Bowen would say, triangulate. If our friends are hurting and they are consulting us about their pain and what to do, I think we should help them go through Jesus’ process. Send them back to the person in question and don’t get involved preemptively. It can be tempting to do that. It feels validating to be trusted. Sometimes we think giving someone a board on which to vent is helpful for them. But we might be hurting the relationship ultimately. Jesus will eventually instruct us to include other people in our conflict, but there’s a time for that, don’t rush it.

It bears repeating: the end goal is forgiveness. After Jesus gives his disciples this exhortation they ask him how much they should forgive someone. It makes sense that they might want to ask Jesus exactly how many times they should go through this already generous procedure before they can be done with it. They are looking for a rule to follow, but Jesus’ rule is love. Even the notion that we should treat people that we don’t win over as pagans or tax collectors may be said in a tongue-in-cheek way since Matthew himself is a tax collector and Jesus clearly associates with “pagans” in the very same Gospel.

I am not the Taco Bell of McDonald’s and Burger King.

I came across Taco Bell’s short film that launched its new breakfast campaign the other day. As McDonald’s experiments with all-day breakfast, the taco fast food chain is helping us realize that it’s time to be done with the tyrannical clown and be free to eat something alternative for breakfast.

I love Ad Week’s description:

… the whole concept also can’t help but come across as some kind of meta wormhole, like a microcosm of capitalism trying to devour itself. A smaller fast-food giant is knocking a bigger goliath for creating a fantastical totalitarian communist state…

I suppose that’s why I also found it so interesting. Capitalism making a mockery of Orwell’s and Huxley’s anti-capitalist and totalitarian concepts to perpetuate itself. It is, in fact, a definitively Orwellian concept to use your enemy’s tactics to further your hegemony. It’s like when someone calls black activists racist. It’s using their enemy against them.

It’s not just an aesthetic decision. Sure, the revolution has an aesthetic that marketers can brand and sell, but I think it’s something more sinister. When the revolution is merely just an aesthetic, but what lies beyond it is the same thing as before, it begins to feel a little rigged. Like the intention is never real change, just a different talking head. Unfortunately, the American political system has taught me that we are electing a different-looking face for the same exact foreign and domestic policy. One side paints the other as vastly different when it’s really just more of the same.

Want a different breakfast? Try cooking your own. Better yet, use something you’ve grown. Maybe you can even fast.

It’s funny, because the powers that be give us options that they sell as alternatives, when really it’s just two sides of the same coin. The bipartisan system is an easy target of this line of reasoning, but if you just waste your energy deconstructing what Americans still see as politics as usual, we might miss how else they are tricking us.

My favorite example as of late is Uber and Lyft. These car services essentially replace taxi cabs. Most of my friends are not cab users, but some of them have gotten into Uber. Uber’s marketed itself into your pocket, destroying any sort of human interacting you may have had with a cab you ordered. But is the question really between a privately ordered car ride and a cab? What about public infrastructure? What about biking? Walking? Not drinking so much that you can drive yourself?

We even subjected solving our identity crises in this categorical way. What box do you fit into? Not only does our illusion of choice give us the false notion of freedom, it also gives a sense of diversity. We think we have choices because it’s a Egg McMuffin or A.M. Crunchwrap. But I think Jesus helps us transcend those arbitrary choices to create an alternative, not just a better option. I think life in Christ gives us an opportunity to become our true self, our better self, our full self.

There’s no sales pitch for you to consume my product versus another’s. Churches do that kind of stuff all the time. The postmodern era taught us to make decisions based on our own preferences and proclivities. So you might just think Circle of Hope is an attractive option for those who appreciate our theology or aesthetic. But for me, I’m interested in people radically committing to doing something that will change the world, not just suit their preferences. Circle of Hope may very well suit yours, but probably not for long.

If you want to stick around until the next opportunity comes, until the next fast food giant seduces you with their breakfast, I think that’s fine. But I want to convince you to participate in something radical, where, at the moment of your discontent or lack of satisfaction you can actually voice your opinion, have a conflict, be known and heard, and ultimately formed by Jesus through his body.

We aren’t the Mountain Dew of the Pepsi and Coke fight. The Taco Bell of Burger King and McDonald’s. We’re not just a third way (although I appreciate advocates of nonviolence and their use of that term), but I hope we are your way, your way of finding hope, life, and love. Transforming you in on the inside, so you can transform others. Freeing you from your shackles, so that you can help free others of the shackles of democracy and capitalism.

I’ll leave you with this famous verse from Romans 12:2.

Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature.

God’s will cannot be reduced to elections and commercials. Chances are, if we are really pursuing it, it won’t be televised.

The Resurrection undoes the American mythos

It’s not surprising that people never feel like they have enough faith.

We live in a consumeristic society where we never have enough. When March only produced 126,000 jobs, the newspapers said it was disappointing. We need to grow every month. We need to grow all the time. Endless growth, endless education, endless progress. In the United States we are sold myths. We believe the mythology and the indoctrination. It’s hard to tell what is real or not. What desires of ours have been given to us from the world and from God?

Jean Paul Sartre said it well when he wrote this:

There are the great myths, the myths of happiness, of progress, of liberty, of triumphant maternity—and then there are the Americans… the language is charged with optimistic and unrestrained expressions—“have a good time,” “life is fun,” and the like. But there are also these people who, though conventionally happy, suffer from an obscure malaise, who are tragic through fear of being so, through that total absence of the tragic in them and around them.

Perhaps nowhere else will you find such a discrepancy between people and myth, between life and the representation of life. An American said to me: “The trouble is that we are all eaten by the fear of being less American than our neighbor.”… The anguish of the American confronted with Americanism is an ambivalent anguish, as if he were asking, “Am I American enough?” and at the same time, “How can I escape from Americanism?” In America a man’s simultaneous answers to these two questions make him what he is, and each man must find his own answers.

On one hand, Sartre hits the nail on the head. Americans love to win. Americans love progress. We want more and more and more. But here’s where he is wrong and where he is just as influenced by American mythology: do we need to find our own way? Do we need to find our own answers? Must we be enslaved to ourselves?

Before long, we’ll be looking for the “right” answers, the “best” answers. We are stuck in our own minds and can’t find a way out. We are trying to “progress” out of the myth of progress. We are damned before we start.

For me, that’s exactly the attitude that Jesus came to undo. Truly, this isn’t just an American problem. Maybe it’s a human problem. Jesus brings us a backward revolution. One that isn’t so easily seen through our American lenses.

“What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

It’s so hard to believe it, though. We toil under the sun for our food. Usually not literally, but we have priorities; our jobs, our businesses, our relationships, our homes, our children. Endless preoccupation and distraction. Our little fulfillment of the American dream. Just this time, it’s with a different aesthetic. It’s in a gentrifying neighborhood. It’s marrying young and poor. It’s starting an alternative business. It’s having close, real relationships. Progressive children. Whatever the part of the American myth we bought into, it seems like we are heeding Sartre’s advice and coming up with the answers to the questions by ourselves.

Again, Jesus gives us the alternative through his Resurrection.

Our enslavement to rationality still precludes many of us from actually believing this is an historical event. Check out the pastors’ videocast this week for more about why I think we should believe in the Resurrection.

But to comfort you in this Easter season, I just want you to know that the women who first approached Jesus’ empty tomb had a hard time believing and even being believed. In fact, Jewish and Roman law discounted a woman’s account. Not only that, the resurrection and afterlife were bizarre concepts. In fact, the ruling Jewish political party vehemently denied the resurrection of the dead and in fact challenged Jesus on such a question. The mythology around us of personal progress, of making the most of our lives while we have them, precludes us from believing in the Resurrection. In fact, American scarcity makes our own bodily resurrection less desirable. If something lasts forever, it is useless. One person told me he is haunted by the prospect of living forever because he might get bored—or he might experience eternal dread. In the American mythology, eternal life may as well be eternal dread. Death is freeing for those who are enslaved in this world. But Jesus can free us not just from the shackles of this world but the shackles of death. Eternity starts now.

Our lives aren’t scarce, but we are abundantly blessed. It’s hard to realize that in the moment of our suffering. Resurrection is here, but not for all of us, it seems. Not practically anyway. We are still sick, still addicted, still depressed, still lonely. We still smell like death, we still smell like our old selves. We are stuck in our old patterns. We can’t seem to get out of them. Our Lenten disciples end before they start impacting us. We have old crutches that we use and we’re limited. We’re addicted to death, but we need to fall in love with resurrection. We are rigid and we break before we bend, our relationships suffer.

We have to be flexible enough not just to have faith, but to admit our mistakes and be forgiven. We have to flex our way into resurrection. It takes mobility. It takes malleability. We can’t bring the Gospel into the present without great flexibility. One of the reasons is because, honestly, generation after generation comes up with creative ways to undermine it. It lives on and adapts, but only because people are flexible.

Matthew ends his book and his chapter on Resurrection with what is now commonly called the Great Commission. The disciples were all there, seeing the Risen Lord. Matthew notes that some of them doubted. Some of them are still stuck in the contemporary mythology, like many of us are still stuck in the American one. Jesus tells us that history has been rewritten and we are going to continue the revolution. How? Baptize people and nations, spread the Gospel all over the world.

Circle of Hope’s simple response to the Great Commission is our cells and PMs. These are the nuts and bolts of what we do. We think today the Gospel needs to be delivered personally, in relationships that are authentic, not in platforms and principles. People discover Jesus in our cells and PMs. They are included in our community. They see Christ’s way modeled, not preached. They experience resurrection through eternity that is now displayed in our community. And then they move toward transformation. Resurrection transforms them. It gets them out of death and into new life. Out of fear and the demands of the world. Beyond the American myths of progress, happiness, lies a new and alternative way, born out of death, killing the myth of scarcity and wealth, ending the ways we constantly evaluate ourselves and our inadequacy. Bringing something new to the world and to us. Keep your eyes open, you might miss it. Move toward it, it might change you. And then be moved to share the word.

The poor you will always have with you, but maybe not in Philly

We are in Holy Week in Circle of Hope and we are journeying with Christ toward his death. In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ final week, he spent time visiting with some of his closest friends in Bethany. He made stayed there after he triumphantly entered Jerusalem. Matthew and Mark don’t identify who the woman is, but John says it is Mary, Martha and Lazarus’ sister who anointed Jesus in reverence and worship with her prized possession. The disciples, in the synoptic accounts and Judas in John’s, claim it’s a “waste” to use precious perfume this way. It should be sold and given to the poor. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy when they make such an egregious claim, “For the poor you will always have with you.” He goes on to say, “But you will not always have me.”

Somehow, Jesus’ phrase, which is about worshipping Jesus when he is on earth, and not some sort of social or political statement, got twisted into justifying all sorts of American neglect to the poor. Proof-texting our way toward justifying greed and capitalism may have a judgment of its own. Jesus is talking about worshiping him and being with him on his march toward death. Perhaps the disciples, who in Matthew 20 already demonstrate their proclivity to become jealous and seek attention, are envious of Mary’s humility and Jesus’ subsequent affirmation and attention to her. In John’s account, the treasurer Judas, clamors to help the poor. For Christ’s disciples, this may not have been an uncommon practice; the disciples assume Judas went to help the poor when he leaves to betray Christ in John 13. But we know how to story goes, Judas, who tells Jesus that the perfume should be sold to help the poor, sells out his friend for just thirty pieces of silver (really, not very much at all).

Of course, the rest of Moses’ statement is indicative of Jesus’ own motives: “Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’” The poor are always with us and among us; there seems to be someone who is always taking more than their fair share, so subsequently, the poor are always present. Jesus may actually be telling us to be among the poor and care for them. It seems that clear in the Pentateuch.

Well, maybe not in Philadelphia. We don’t even have the public space to interact with the poor, let alone the neighborhoods to accommodate them. In fact, Uber and Lyft, make even the small public place of the subway and bus or even hailing a cab on a street corner obsolete!

Gentrification is a big reason why the poor are increasingly less among us, especially in “hot” neighborhoods. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, 41 percent of renters in Philly have extreme low incomes and the next third are very low- or low-income. Of the renters are who extremely low-income, more than 70 percent spend more than half of their income on housing.

According to the Philadelphia Coalition for Affordable Communities (of which I am a member with Circle of Hope’s Development Without Displacement team), people are increasingly housing cost-burdened over the last 10 years. And in North, South and West Philly Hosting sale prices have sky rocketed (50% citywide, but 200, 184, and 98 percent in North, South, and West Philly respectively), with income decreasing.

So as a small measure to help this problem, PCAC is proposing an increase to the Real Estate Transfer Tax of 1.5 percent on properties that are “fixed and flipped.” If a property is sold more less than two years after it is purchased, 1.5 percent of its sale price goes into the Housing Trust Fund. The purpose of this is not to curb development, but rather encourage diversity in neighborhoods. The Housing Trust Fund funds affordable housing development and can help keep residents where they are, even if jobs aren’t created and income doesn’t rise. We think this small tax increase will result in $12 million!

I want the poor to be among us. I want them to be loved and not just discarded from their own neighborhoods Truthfully, I’m not a policy expert and I don’t make it my business to legislate too much morality. Jesus will save us, not the law or anything else. But I think we have a good opportunity to help the poor here, and the situation in Philadelphia is egregious and reprehensible. It may not work, but we’re facing a major displacement crisis with more and more families paying higher prices for their housing while income goes down. I think the families need a little relief with the people benefiting from this development need to take more responsibility.

I understand the argument that this might disincentivise developers, but I think it’s in their interest to participate since diverse neighborhoods with affordable housing actually increase the value of homes. Moreover, Philly already had a 4 percent transfer tax  (which detractors will tell you is the highest in the nation), but still developing is booming and the population is growing.

Developers are making money hand-over-fist. In fact, a brilliant 26-year-old MIT graduate argues that income inequality in the world is all about housing income.

Again, the law is not the Word of God and the state is not God. Only He will give us true justice and peace. But on this Holy Week, as Jesus marches toward death to change the whole world, part of what I can do is advocate for some common sense legislation. Jesus, in Matthew 25, says he is in the least of these. Truly, the poor will always be with us, and Jesus is among them. This time, I want to be on the side of the least of these.