The reading for Pentecost, celebrated a couple Sundays ago, is one of my favorite. Actually, the quotation in the Acts story from Joel is one of my favorites: "In the last days it will be, God declares, that I shall pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy."
I confess, part of my love of that passage is that I chose to memorize it for my New Testament class in college. Yes, we got to choose which ones, but memorizing scripture was part of actual tests. That's a whole other kind of weird. In a place that was just beginning serious conversations about women in ministry, texts like that being part of class mattered more than most people can ever imagine.
Here's why I love it now: prophecy, dreams, visions.
We never get permission to do all those things together. God knows, church aren't great at prophesying, dreaming, and seeing new things. I'm not either a lot of days. Still, there it is, permission for those dreams that keep you up at night, a blessing upon the images in your head you just can't shake. There it is, the hope that all those dreams and visions might just be Spirit-breathed prophecy.
This, this is the hope that those dreams and visions aren't just you being crazy. I know it sometimes feels that way.
So here's the crazy I'm living with. Last year was a good financial year for my church. I mean, we're not rolling in it, but everything was paid with some left over. We started asking, "What could we do with the extra?" We wanted something that would make a difference, that would affect our larger community, not just us. We're just a few miles from the poor part of town, which is populated by title loan businesses and other sorts of businesses that cater to poorer clientele, often exploiting rather than helping. We're also in a firmly middle class area with just those few miles. The last time I checked, in our immediate neighborhoods, the median income was around $85,000. Yes, those are some stark differences. The conversation centered around how we could use our power--as a mostly well-educated, mostly Anglo, mostly middle class church--to tackle a justice issue.
Fast forward a few months, and we're trying to offer an alternative to predatory lending like title loans. We're applying to be part of a model right now. It's a long but good story. The end of it: if it works, we'll offer a no-risk way for people to build credit and get a significant sum of money in one lump to use for something they need. It's really cool. If you're the praying sort, send a few our way.
And I just keep thinking: what if this works?
The most basic reading of the Christian Bible means that we have to help the poor. There's just no way around it. Some of my favorite passages are in the midst of the Law, where commands are given about slaves going free, and returning property, and treating foreigners as welcome guests, and creating ways for the poor to have enough. Jesus didn't exactly skimp on those teachings, either.
So I just keep thinking: what if this works?
If this works, could we get a local credit union to offer low interest loans to people who would normally be too great a risk? Could we get people from well, anywhere and everywhere, to give us money to provide backing to the loans? It's not much money for most of us. Most payday loans, the ones that spawn thousands of dollars of insurmountable debt, are $200 or less. We can do that.
If this works, would it actually get the right people talking about living wages?
If this works, would this church--this church that has always been small--have the need to build more buildings? Not the classrooms and offices once planned, but showers and sleeping space and washers and dryers. Would we be talking about how we can serve food? Or offer some more after school care options? Or be a space where kids could do homework and parents could do laundry? (I don't know why laundry is such a big deal to me, except I hate it and laundromats are most often horrible places no one should have to spend much time in.) Could we be one of the churches that hosts youth trips in the summer and teaches them about service, community engagement, and how to take Jesus' teachings seriously enough to live them out.
If this works, could we figure out a community with mixed income housing? That's what creates the strongest communities. Yes, it eliminates the bad part of town we're told to worry about but, let's face it, people making plenty of money need to be in contact with those who don't. I'm also well aware that it would be downright amazing if young adults could find housing and a community in the same place.
Could we create a different sort of community than suburbia usually offers? One where the schools next door know we're here to help, even if our kids go to other schools? Instead of building another parking lot, could we use the lots of those same schools, and Fry's, and have people actually walking around the places they normally drive?
Somewhere behind all of this is church growth, but that can never be the aim, at least not for me. Any church growth can only be the natural product of living more fully into the reign of God. Because that's the crazy thing for me. Sometimes I think about nonprofit work instead. Some days I think anything like this is totally impossible and insane. And then I remember these amazing commands from God:
So I settle into those nighttime dreams, keeping me awake, just a little bit more. I wonder, I dream, I envision, I hope. Prophesy? We'll see. Because what if this works?