Drinking Beer for Jesus
Posted on September 22, 2009
In the gospel of Mark, the disciples ‘strain at the oars’ as they pass from Jewish to Gentile territory. In the Old Testament, this journey was the last step in the 40 year freedom walk from Egypt. In the New Testament, it is used by Mark as a metaphor for the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile, carried on by Paul. In Long Gully, the Jordan is not so much religion. Many of our neighbours are hostile to Christianity, but many more have a history of involvement with the church. The Jordan for us is culture and class. The culture of Long Gully is not consciously ethnic (though overwhelming anglo), but is formed by a common history of unemployment, alienation, addiction, powerlessness, mental illness, stigmatisation and family breakdown, feeding into and causing each other, forming a lifestyle.
I visited Greg recently to invite him to lunch at 12pm. He asked me what the time was, as he had no clock and the one on his DVD player was wrong – he had no clock. Middle-class time is so important that I was momentarily gobsmacked by this small but significant clash of cultures – it meant that Greg would always struggle to turn up to anything on time. Think about the implications for relationships, health and employment.
In the Seeds community here, we are all middle-class. Our experience has been smudged in places by the same factors that affect our neighbours, but not in combination and not for long. Though we are trying to be in solidarity with the poor, our class loyalty is still to the middle-class, which distracts us in many and specific ways from our stated desire to be amongst the poor. I say this bluntly because unless I swallow this bitter pill, this dynamic will corrupt and deflate many of my efforts to love my neighbour.
‘Class’ and ‘Culture’ are abstract terms, but they jump out when we uncover some fairly ordinary items. How does our middle-class loyalty manifest itself?:
1. Spending time with the middle-class: we know the codes of middle-class relationships (when to speak, what to say, what not to say, how often to swear etc) but we don’t know how to spend time with those who live in generational poverty. Do watch the TV that’s always on? Is laughing at crude jokes OK? Should we ask personal questions? Because we have meetings to be at and people to see, we middle-class people have a sense of time which is cut up into segments for apportioning. Sitting for an hour on someone’s dirty lounge while watching wrestling seems like a waste of time.
2. Refusing the food of the poor: food is crucial to mission, as Jesus the glutton and drunkard attests. It connotes hospitality, connection and welcome. Even in our culture, refusing to eat someone’s food is extremely rude. People often offer me a beer or a Beam and coke can at their house, but this year I’m not drinking alcohol. The issue of accepting alcohol has nothing to do with ‘getting down to their level’ (what a hypocritical phrase of misplaced superiority) but of accepting the hospitality of those who we serve. We want to extend hospitality to them, but not the other way around…well, maybe it would be OK if they would only offer nice food. In my area, people generally eat unhealthily, and their children do too. This is a sensitive issue for middle-class parents, who understandably don’t want their children eating sugary and fatty foods. Is the price of mission paying for dental work?! I don’t have children, so I’ll leave someone else to give a definitive answer.
These are just 2 examples – others are entertainment, physicality, sex, clothing etc
I don’t raise the issue of class because I want us to forget our family and friends, but to remind myself that cross-class solidarity is so difficult as to require regular self-scrutiny. Our middle-class upbringing is not evil, but has instilled norms of purity which seem as natural as the sun rising. Our desire to serve Jesus in the poor can’t be sacrificed for our middle-class sensibilities.