All right, I admit it. When the Powerball gets Monopoly money high, a couple of us throw in a couple bucks to buy a few chances.
I suspect that’s not an uncommon practice among Americans—taking a flyer on an impossible payoff, because, I mean, you never know … right?
People who live paycheck to paycheck (or something very nearly like it) dream of not having the pressure of trying to figure out how to pay the electric bill and buy junior Zamboni driving lessons. Living continually on the edge of disaster wears you down. Dreaming about a life in which you don’t have to worry all the time about how you’re going to stay afloat seems entirely understandable to me.
But it’s one thing to dream about a life where you don’t have to worry anymore because you hit the government sponsored gambling jackpot; it’s an entirely different thing to have that as your primary longterm investment strategy. You know what I’m talking about—the people who regularly take money they can’t really afford and head down to the liquor store for fifty bucks worth of Mega-millions tickets and a handful of scratch offs.
Intellectually, we know it’s a lousy idea to plan our futures based on winning a long shot bet (the house almost always wins, right?). But the thought of a dump truck pulling up to your place and dropping off a mountain of hundred dollar bills is quite compelling.
And I’m convinced that the reason people play against such overwhelming odds has less to do with the fact that they really want a Hummer limousine and an indoor swimming pool, than with the prospect of just not having to worry anymore about how to make ends meet. Playing the lottery for most people, I think, has more to do with finding an easy way to escape the crushing uncertainties of modern life by those who’ve often occupied the nightmare side of the American dream than with finally getting a chance to show the Gettys and the Rockafellers a thing or two about putting on the dog.
It strikes me that congregations that exist on the rougher side of ecclesiastical life often employ winning-the-lottery as a viable solution to their problems. Rather than take the initiative to put themselves in a position to face the future by thinking creatively and trying new things, many congregations seem to think that continuing to live life the way they’ve always lived it while waiting on a new commune populated with the young families of doctors and lawyers to move in across the street is a workable investment strategy.
And don’t try to tell me that what’s going on in these congregations is merely the exercise of Christian hope. Christian hope isn’t sitting in the middle of the interstate paralyzed with fear, anticipating God to yank you out of the way of a Greyhound bus. Christian hope means struggling to move off the asphalt as quickly as possible, trusting that whatever happens God is struggling with you.
Can God come and miraculously prevent you from being steamrolled? God can do anything God wants. But doesn’t it seem rather shortsighted to expect that, of all the similar cases of people stranded in the center lane of the Autobahn, you’re going to be the one God picks to relocate to the oasis of the grassy median? Your inaction communicates that “we are special in ways that other struggling congregations are not, and are therefore deserving of God’s best emergency management efforts.”
But notwithstanding the short-sightedness of such an escape plan, sitting in the middle of the road in the face of oncoming traffic, expecting divine intervention, presumes even further on God. It says that any work that gets done ought to be God’s—that we only have a responsibility to lie here until God works some magic, rendering us impervious to the perils of napping on the expressway.
Why not move? Just a little bit? There are no guarantees that you’ll avoid getting flattened. But maybe God’s miracle isn’t that you’ll be magically transported out of danger, but that you’ll find a way to scratch and claw your way out of the middle of the road when you were convinced that doing so would be impossible.
“What do we do?”
Gather your wits. Take a small step.
Rent out some rooms in your building for office space. Then find an AA group, a girl scout troop, and a community ministry who needs space to store canned goods for the food pantry, and give some space away.
Become a white flag shelter for the homeless in the winter.
Take a few volunteers who still know how to do math and use coloring crayons and start a latchkey program in your fellowship hall for the kids in your neighborhood.
Take some folks from church and go take a stand at a city council meeting on behalf of a group of folks who don’t have much of a voice (the disabled, the immigrants, the homeless, the young people with no playground or community pool, etc.).
Do something that looks like Jesus might approve of.
I don’t know what it’s going to take. I’m not promising you won’t find yourself needing to be peeled off the pavement. But I will tell you this: Waiting until you win the lottery before you start living like a community whose primary purpose is to follow Jesus will almost certainly ensure that you won’t be around long enough to get the chance.