Being a church beyond the consumer’s choice

Even though I am enjoying, very much actually, the reading and writing I am doing in seminary. It is nice to be able to write on my own and read without it being assigned. I suppose that’s one of the reasons I keep this blog. And also why I have found Daniel M. Bell Jr.’s Economy of Desire to be so enjoyable—I was thankful a friend recommended it to me. It’s a great analysis of how Christianity can be a response to capitalism. If you are looking to take a little college class in less than 225 pages, read it (though I’m not totally through it yet).

Daniel Bell argues in the text that there are two main presuppositions in the postmodern world: 1) capitalism is the only mode for productive (even communist states use capitalism), and 2) that the state is the greatest agent of change. Put crudely, the myth is that the private sector makes stuff, and the public sector makes stuff happen.

The problem for Christians is when Christianity gets lumped into that paradigm. It not only assumes that the church cannot be an agent of change (most of you are reading this, especially those in Circle of Hope, would and should whole-heartedly disagree), but also reduces the church into a commodity that needs to be consumed. The result is the attractional movement, where worship is merely an experience that is manufactured, packaged, and sold. There are good things happening in those churches, but I am afraid they shrink the radicality of Jesus. As we grow into new things in Circle of Hope, we are wary of the temptation just to become more consumable.

I confess, I am a product of the attractional church and I think I sometimes fall into these trap. So often, I am evaluating someone’s sermon—or even my own—as if it is a product that is getting reviewed. I have done my share of church shopping, until I finally found Circle of Hope and I learned I couldn’t shop for what I was. Additionally I wonder if the worship is “feeding me,” enough—if it is meeting the needs that I have arbitrarily and arrogantly set for myself.

But I’m not interested in making excuses for myself, I actually want to be something different. But even if we are different, I think it can be a challenge for us to be seen as such. The church and Christianity have been so commodified, that I think the work we doing in Circle of Hope is often seen as just another institution that is going to swallow us up, another corporation, another advertisement. Enter, Google’s new Email application Inbox by Gmail. I asked some of my friends about it and found out that the application was a quicker and more efficient way for people to check Email. It summarizes messages for you, bundles unimportant ones, and lets you whiz right through your inbox. (As it turns out, people have thousands of unchecked Emails—how many do you have?) I’m afraid that Google is going to have people whizzing through me, and will teach them to ignore me, and subsequently their brothers and sisters in the body. Google consumes us so that we learn to just consume other people. No wonder people think the church will do that to them.

I don’t want my faith to just be a category in a long list of consumer choices, unable to act for redemption because it lacks a military backing or something. I want to create the alternative.

And I think that’s what the “second act” in Circle of Hope is all about. We want to do something new to keep our movement going. For some of us, it might feel inorganic to “shake things up,” but for me it’s the only way to stop the drift toward the powers that be from happening. If left alone, we might just get consumed. One of our main goals is to see ourselves more as one church, not four little ones that make up a “network,” as we have often referred to ourselves over the past several years. We want to share our resources in common, think and act together for a common vision, one that doesn’t stifle our creativity or make us less diverse, but allows us to flourish. We don’t just want to be seen as an attractive product; we want to be an invitation to the alternative to the civil religion of capitalism and statecraft.

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