Several days ago, I posted an invitation to discuss Jesus and Gas Prices on this blog. It’s a topic that, to a large extent, will reveal how much we really can engage our imagination with the concept of Jesus shaped discipleship.
For example, one evangelical has taken his particular view of rising gas prices and started a movement called “Pray at the Pump.” Somehow, the rise of gas prices is a sign of the end times and praying at the pump for God to lower prices will apparently prove that he’s in charge.
Of course, one wonders if it ever occurred to anyone that the inconvenience to the American lifestyle of mobility and affluence isn’t really something that God would respond to as an act of mercy. Most Americans are inconvenienced by gas prices because of the value they place on mobility and the decisions they’ve made about the kind of life they want to live, decisions made with the assumption of cheap gas in the background.
So somewhere a homeless man or a family struggling to put food on the table will see a group of middle class suburban Christians gathered around a gas pump, praying that God will have mercy and get things back to where we can all go about our business.
I don’t have to spend much time asking if Jesus would join such a prayer meeting.
This is the imagination and mindset of American Christians: God is committed to our lives as we imagine them. He is committed to the gas, the SUVs, the economics, the houses, the conveniences, the investments, the stability, the politics, the military and the religion that maintain the lives we lead.
And if you question this, you risk going down a hole labelled “Fanaticism.”
I grew up with parents and grandparents who had lived through the great depression. (That was an economic downturn in the early 20th century, not a psychological episode.) This event had stamped their view of life in America. They were never quite comfortable with prosperity as we are. They were embarrassed by having too much, and they were deeply aware of what poverty looked like.
My mother’s family knew what it was like to be hungry. Were it not for a wealthier relative, she was quite sure they would have starved in the 1930’s. My father’s family of eastern Kentucky mountaineers lived in what we would call third world conditions today, with just enough subsistence farming and hunting to survive in the backwoods of Lee County, Kentucky.
In the 1970’s, my father had money buried in jars in the back yard. Because he’d lived through bank runs and closings, he never entirely trusted banks.
Almost every one reading this post has their savings and retirement placed where you couldn’t get it tomorrow if you had to. And I really don’t think about it, because life seems very secure.
It is that feeling of security, and where it is, that gets in the way of knowing Jesus. It is why people are praying at gas pumps, and why millions of Christians will believe that whatever changes the American way of life is an “end times crisis,” while the daily poverty and desperation of others around the world is no crisis worth thinking of.
Here’s what I want to get to: Most people who know anything about Jesus know that he lived and taught some kind of radical economics. Christians may differ markedly on what it all means, but Jesus taught again and again that you can’t serve God and the god of financial security. Your treasure must be laid up in heaven. When you are rich in this world, you may be blind to truth and compassion. Your presumption that God is on the side of your economics may be called “foolishness” tomorrow.
Most people know this, and it appears that most American middle class evangelicals and many of their churches don’t know it. Jesus seems to be a spiritual guru, a success in life teacher, a ticket to heaven. He doesn’t mind the economic decisions I make unless I invest in porn or abortion or Democratic candidates. He’s on the side of whatever it takes for our country to have it’s “way of life,” including $2 gas in mom’s Upward soccer delivery SUV.
So….it occurs to me that, should there be a serious economic crisis in America- and would anyone like to bet on the likelihood of that?– it appears that most evangelicals are absent the individual or collective resources to process it on any level other than something like “Satan is attacking God’s people” or “The rapture will happen any minute now.”
I’d like to suggest that evangelicals need to learn how to embrace poverty. Not for show, but because at some point we will have to embrace poverty and, right now, we’d be without a clue on what to do.
We need to look at our churches, technology, luxuries, lifestyles and comfort zones with a ruthless eye. How can we untether ourselves from the God we believe has made all of this happen and told us to move into it as the American promised land?
How can we embrace downward mobility as the way of Christ without self-righteous carping, but with genuine repentance for the foolish way we’ve ignored the economic dimension of discipleship?
We need some contemporary St. Francis’s to throw away their personal affluence and show us another way.
We need Bible teaching that challenges our involvement in what is surely a doomed system.
We need leaders willing to walk away from the building and the salary, and to teach others to do the same.
We need a holy imagination of what it would mean to be “simple church” in terms of economics, and not just programs.
What will your church, your student ministry, your children’s ministry, your discipleship, your worship, your youth program and your evangelism look like in an extended economic crisis?
We need to be so formed by Jesus that the possibilities and authenticity of poverty will be beautiful to us.
We may be forced to embrace economic realities that have prayer meetings at the gas pump looking appropriate. If that’s not going to be the case, we need a new way of following Jesus now.