Sunday, November 27, 2005

the media and economy of faith

in matthew 5.29 jesus gives us his most aggressive and violent instructions. he says if your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it into the fire, and if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away – for it is better to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. now this has always been seen as a pretty severe piece of scripture, and many commentators view it as hyperbole, but I wonder if there’s something else we could get out of it?

see, somewhere our world has gotten messed up. our economy has reduced people to services and things, “community” has become a business expression instead of family reality, and our media highlights the most beautiful split second of the most beautiful people, airbrushed into absolute perfection, as the natural end point of our desires.

it’s like the only things that matter are markets, and the only time people matter is when we can get something from them, whether love or money or a favor or a friendship; but, I know for a fact that my world doesn’t quite work this way, and I’m tempted to think it’s because there are other dynamics at play. it’s like the commerce of our world and all of its advertising and communication are lining us up to say that “these things” matter most, when I know that they don’t.

what I do know is that all of my best experiences in life have been free-of-charge: falling in love, the birth of my son, the experience of god in worship, learning to drive standard with my brother, climbing grouse mountain, staying up all night laughing with friends. what I also know is that every great gift I’ve ever given has been supremely expensive: the engagement ring I bought carmel, the 100 notes I left lying around calvary, the day I had cheesecake with carmel in a carwash, jacob’s birthday at chuck-e-cheese, etc…

if we go back to the scripture I quoted earlier, I’m left wondering if jesus wasn’t giving us a clue as to one source of unfulfillment in our lives. I mean, if we understand our “hand” as the way we do things, instead of just a hand, and our “eye” as the way we see things, instead of just an eye – does that help us understand? if “the way you do things” causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. if “the way you see things” causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away.

see, I’m convinced that we carry attitudes and perspectives with us all of the time that cause us to abuse other people, to commodify friendships and take our western luxuries for granted. I’m convinced that we ignore what’s truly important in life because we are distracted by the immediate concerns of buying and selling, getting and keeping; but, if we’re willing to change how we see people, and how we deal with one another then I believe we can live freer, more fulfilling lives.

think for a moment about a coin wrapper – those little brown, recycled paper things banks give you for your change. this is a piece of paper designed to hold metal money, but, if you open it up, it becomes something else entirely - it becomes a possibility. now there are 10,000 uses for this piece of paper all of which are defined in part by the very fact that you are choosing to take this prop for legal tender and do something else.

fold it into a paper heart, write a love note, or make a paper airplane and fly it with your kids in the living room.

this is a wonderful way to understand the media and economy of faith. the world has given us rules about markets and about meaning, but I think those rules can sometimes be broken. I think we can trade in our paper money wrappers for our voice, and use those things that were meant to just hold money as instruments of encouragement instead.

I mean, what does it say to take this money holder and make it into a psalm, or a prayer, or a thank you, or a toy? what does it mean to break out of the mold of this world that limits your personality and preferences to a wallet? what does it mean to be more than a market, or a demographic, or a target – but to get your own voice back and to use it for something redemptive?

that’s the media and economy of faith for me – cutting off my hand and gouging out my eye and finding a new way to see and act that is defiantly loving.

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