Tag Archives: wealth

A Graceless Apocalypse: Thoughts on “Slabtown” (The Walking Dead)

Beth in "Slabtown," courtesy IGN's excellent review.
Beth in “Slabtown,” courtesy IGN’s excellent review.

[Warning: serious spoilers below. You’ve been warned.]

“Everything costs something, right?”

Season 5, episode 4 of The Walking Dead takes a departure to catch us up on a character we haven’t seen in quite a while.  Last we saw Beth, she was carted off by mysterious forces in a vehicle sporting a white cross.  In last night’s episode, “Slabtown,” Beth wakes up in an unexpected place: a hospital, which we later learn is Grady Memorial in Atlanta.  In a throwback to the pilot episode, she awakens in a strange location unsure what has happened.   The woman in charge of the hospital, Dawn, sets the tone immediately.  Because we used our resources to save you, she says to Beth, “You owe us.”

Beth soon learns that the abandoned hospital is run by survivors who have been rescued (kidnapped? kidrescued?) and then repay their debt by working various tasks inside the hospital.  Outside is nothing but zombies walkers/biters/rotters, so even those at the top of the hierarchy are basically trapped.  But in this inhumane place, the male guards abuse the female workers, and those who want to leave are threatened.  Anyone who questions the system is reminded what it took to rescue them.  “Everything costs something, right?” as one character says.  Beth even refuses food at first because she realizes it will only run up her tab faster.

“Slabtown,” aside from being the kind of interesting, creepy, and suspenseful episode viewers have come to expect from The Walking Dead, also offers the perfect picture  of life without grace.  Everything costs.  Nothing is simply given.

Thanks be to God that the Divine Economy works differently.  With God, nothing is earned, all is given.  As Ephesians 2:8-9 (NRSV) says,

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”

As Tim Keller points out in The Prodigal God (and the parable of the sower further suggests), our God is not stingy in doling out grace.  When we meet God, His first word is not “you owe me” but, like the loving father in the story of the prodigal son, “all that I have is already yours.”

Icon of Christ the Sower
Icon of Christ the Sower

My church recently started a weekly meal for the community; anyone who wants to come in for a meal gets fed, at no cost. When people ask us if they can pay, we tell them no, that there are other ways they can show gratitude if they wish but the meal is free.

We call this ministry Table of Grace, because the food, like God’s grace, is free of charge.  “Slabtown” gives us an excellent view of a world (or at least a half-operative apocalyptic hospital) that has forgotten grace.  Too often Christians, though, act exactly this way.  We only recruit new church members with “resources.”  We plant churches in wealthy neighborhoods and only befriend those who can enhance our status and help us reach our goals.  We ask our community to pay our bills (with incessant fundraisers) but never give anything back to our neighbors.  The temptation of mammon remains, and always will.

But followers of Jesus are at our best when we remember that God is not miserly with His grace.  Though we capitalist North Americans so often hate to receive for nothing, though it is antithetical to the world we live in, that is the Kingdom economy that we meet in the Bible.  Unlike the apocalypse-stricken Grady Memorial in Atlanta, the truth of the cosmos is an economy of grace.

That which matters most is free; God writes no bills, and we could not buy His love with any amount of money.  Thanks be to God.

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The Hardest Persecution

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“The things you own…end up owning you.”

-Tyler Durden, Fight Club

I found myself flipping through St. Clement’s treatise The Rich Man’s Salvation recently, as I reflect on possessions for my current sermon series on the 10 Commandments.  He has an interesting take on Christian persecution:

“Now one kind of persecution comes from without, when men, whether through hatred, or envy, or love of gain, or by the prompting of the devil, harry the faithful.  But the hardest persecution is that from within, proceeding from each man’s soul that is defiled by godless lusts and manifold pleasures, by low hopes and corrupting imaginations; when ever coveting more, and maddened and inflamed by fierce loves, it is stung by its attendant passions…into states of frenzied excitement, into despair of life and contempt of God. This persecution is heavier and harder, because it arises from within and is ever with us; nor can the victim escape from it, for he carries his enemy about within himself everywhere.” (Clement of Alexandria, #92 in the Loeb Classical Library [Cambridge: Harvard University press 2003], 322-323.)

This does not deny that the outward and overt forms of persecution should be denied or marginalized, mind you.  But it does serve as a useful reminder that the Church has always flourished when faced with external persecution.  This other, “hardest” persecution, however, seems to be precisely that which is destroying the church in the modern West.

Thought for the Day: How the 1% Have Helped Me

Short and sweet (or bitter, depending on which side of the Marx/Smith divide you fall on):

My seminary education would not have been possible without the 1%.  I went to Duke Divinity School, a part of Duke University, which of course was built on a tobacco fortune.  There is still massive wealth associated with the University; like it or not, such institutions, no matter how high their purpose or how much their professors despise the accumulation of wealth, rely on the highest wage-earners and their philanthropy.  As Dave Ramsey recently pointed out, the top 1% also give a vast majority of the charitable donations in America.

You can’t love the milk and hate the cow: they are connected.  Inextricably.  I’ve found it troubling that so many of my fellow pastors – whose seminaries, churches attended and churches served relied heavily on the generosity of those who made enough to give a lot – have bought into the OWS ideology utterly hook, line, and sinker.  You can hate the system all you want to, but many of you, like me, have benefited from it in innumerable ways.  To pretend otherwise in fits of pious grandstanding is nothing short of dangerously naive.