Okay, its been about a half a week since I’ve been back from Zambia. I’ve not done much deep writing around the trip because there is so much in my head that I am just trying to sort it all out. Sunday morning, I preached a mess of a sermon that I am hoping made sense. I really tried to share my heart and what God is doing with Melanie and I since I’ve returned. The sermon didn’t record for some reason so I’m going to try and lay it out in a shorter version here:
Thought #1 – The culture in Zambia is beautiful and they get worship, prayer and community better than we ever have. Its part of their DNA. It’s beautiful. I can’t wait to go back next summer if it works out.
Thought #2 – While the church in Zambia is thriving, it has some significant challenges. The leaders and congregations are still in the midst of emerging from colonialism (under the British Empire). The Brittish left only 40 years ago. This is causing the church to deal with rediscovering what it means to do and be the church for themselves and break out of the mold, forms and structures that the Western missionaries gave them. It was a beautiful experience to be able to work through some of these issues with the leaders there. I believe that what is emerging and will emerge is a beautiful picture of what God has intended for His Church.
Thought #3 – While the church and the culture is beautiful, its clear that the way of life isn’t working very well from a material point of view. The roads are bad, AIDS is revenging the country and when 70% of a city lives below the poverty line, it is a sign that there are problems. Big ones. And that’s just the beginning. For example, the following stats aren’t specific to Zambia but they are reflective of sub-Saharan Africa:
Twenty five thousand children die every day from hunger and malnutrition. Ninety-one million children under five years old are severely malnourished. Two hundred sixty-five million have never been immunized. Three hundred sixty-six million lack access to clean water. Over fourteen million children have lost either or both parents to AIDS.
Big Realization #1 – The answer for the Zambian people and their African friends is not to find a way for each person to own single family dwellings in suburbia where they can have cable television, DVRs, xboxes, drive two cars and have 2.5 kids. Doing this would destroy the things that they currently have going for them. Something struck me right when I realized that if this true (and I think it is) then why do we constantly pursue these very things?
Big Realization #2 – While we have roads, AIDS is fairly controlled, we relative affluence, our culture doesn’t work either. We just pretend that it does. Check out some of these stats from Tom Sine’s new book The New Conspirators:
- Americans now owe $750 billion in revolving credit card debt. That is six times what it was two decades ago.
- From 1989 to 2001, credit card debt carried by poor families increased 149 percent.
- Between 1983 and 2003, U.S. bankruptcy filings increased 500 percent.
- U.S. mortgage foreclosure rate has escalated 500 percent since the early 1970’s.
- Incredibly, while debt is soaring, one of the most rapidly growing industries in America is the $17 billion storage industry. Apparently we need more space to store all those consumer delights that we don’t really need and can’t really afford.
Here’s the deal.
Most of us would not argue that we should be living out Isaiah 58 – that we must spend ourselves on behalf of the poor, the hungry, the oppressed or our worship means nothing (if you don’t agree with me just read the passage). But we can not do this because we live lives that feed into all the stats from Tom Sine’s book. Sure, we want to care for others – especially the poor – but we are living lives that are just not able to “fit that in.”
To use a Seinfeld-ism, I believe that I / we have been “double dipping.” We want to be living in the world that runs by the rules of the Kingdom – we even have a foot in there. But, we also have a foot in the world of the American Dream that tells us that happiness, pleasure, satisfaction, security and comfort comes from having stuff. Sure, we’ve dipped into the Kingdom. But then we’ve dipped again into the American Dream. And we keep on dipping.
It’s kind of like we’re part of a mob.
Mobs are an interesting phenomenon because with a mob you will have all these people doing something that they normally wouldn’t do if they were acting as individuals. I’m becoming convinced that the suburban world is a different kind of mob. It’s not outwardly violent. We’re not flipping over cars or anything. But it is subversively violent. So subversive that we don’t even realize it till it’s too late.
You see, most of us know that the best way of life is a life that gives and serves and follows after the way of Jesus. But, we’re in this mob that keeps calling us to another way of life and we just keep on giving in because that’s what we’ve always done and everyone else is doing it.
Its time to get out of the mob.
Or, since Melanie and I still feel very called to live the Kingdom in suburbia, its at least time to live alternatively with others in the midst of the mob…
So here’s the deal: if we really do want to give ourselves to those less fortunate and actually live for something greater than ourselves, but our way of life doesn’t let us, we must change our way of life.
That’s where Melanie and I are at this moment. We have to change our way of life.
Our sense of purpose demands it. The future of our kids demands it. The poor around us demand it. The gospel demands it.
So, whats going to be different?
We’re still figuring that out. I’ve been trying to leave behind the temptation to change the whole world with the return from a missions trip. Be sure, I’m not throwing out all my non-christian CD’s or anything.
But we’re beginning with two little, mustard-seed type things:
One thing we are doing is letting the wind blow through our finances and seeing what’s left. We praying we can find a way to trim about $500 – $800 off our monthly budget so that we can life more freely. This is a bit radical of a goal and it might take awhile to get there, but we’d like to be able to save our own money for Zambia each year rather than having to raise the support every time.
We would like to do this so that we can work less and give more. So, nothing in our budget is sacred really. It’s probably not a “sell all you have and give it to the poor” kind of thing at the moment, because I believe it would be hard to stay in suburbia and pull that off. But, it is a total reorientation and reevaluation of all the we own and all that we will purchase in the future.
Again, nothing is sacred.