What the Government Shutdown Has Taught Us

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“What do you have?”

Mindlessly scrolling through the news as of 8am on a rainy Thursday, something snapped my attention: headlines of the latest on the government shutdown, which ended this past weekend—the longest in history to date—blared their less-than-hopeful words in bold typeface. An addendum in less-bold type then shared the story of free meals and haircuts, gift cards and 0% interest bank loans that were being offered to those experiencing economic hardship due to the shutdown. Scrolling further, article #3 was much different. It contained a picture of a shelf, all neatly arranged with trinkets and folded sweaters, as if out of a magazine. “Marie Kondo Craze” it read, speaking of the latest home-organizing trend involving getting rid of anything that does not bring you joy.

Resisting the urge to continue scrolling, I paused. Something stood out. I scrolled backwards, then forwards. Wasn’t it strange that a fad of getting rid of things was taking place at the same time thousands of government workers were struggling to hold onto anything, the same time restaurants, businesses, organizations, and churches have stepped in to give, help, and offer assistance?  Was this something like how my mom used to go into a cleaning frenzy when she was stressed? But looking deeper into both stories, I discovered a commonality.

“What do you have?”

The answer always is: more than you thought.

The Rhetorical Question

“What do you have?” is the question Jesus asked his disciples when there were 5000+ people to feed but no boxed lunches in sight. He actually meant it, but we usually assume this to be a rhetorical question to ask ourselves when nerves are frayed and problems are too big.  “What do I have?” Our usual answer: “Not much.” Things like governments are big, and each of us is small. Things like churches are dying. Things like circumstances out of our control reveal no easy button to press and no way to wake up from what’s going on. It all becomes a woe-is-me world. When you feel your power, influence, and resources are limited, all you see is an insurmountable problem with a solution that’s not up to you.

But beyond shutdowns and home organization strategies, the answer continues to be that there’s more than you thought.

You just have to see it.

And use it.

Here are three “holy shifts” I am learning to move from “not much” to “more than I thought.”

Holy Shift #1: From Rhetorical to Examining

But a shift occurs when you take the rhetorical out of the question.

After the first weeks of dire headlines announcing the shutdown, subtle shift occurred when stories began to unfold.  It was a grassroots shift that transformed “what do I have?” from being hopelessly rhetorical into helpfully examining. Restaurants and organizations, banks and churches, individuals and families answered it with what they saw when they looked around and examined what they really had. Free meals, haircuts, fitness classes, 0% loans, donuts, and gas cards were the result. Kids were selling cocoa and crafts. Musicians held benefit concerts every day of the week around the country. My friend and Fresh Expressions co-worker Travis Collins even appeared on NPR as his church gave out thousands of dollars in gift cards and invited banks to meet with furloughed workers to offer no-interest loans.

It’s certainly true that pizza and temporary financial help undoubtedly do not fix the source of furloughs and $0 paychecks. But something holy begins to happen when people offer others what they have—especially at a cost to themselves. It has a meaning that goes far beyond the “stuff.” After all, any preacher who digs into the story of Jesus’ feeding of the 5000 always talks about more than bread and fish and full bellies; Jesus is fully present in the midst of desperation and limitation. Somehow, offering what you have—as big or small as it is—has a strange way of reaching beyond the very limits that you assumed could not make a difference. To find out what’s in the closet, you have to open the door.

Somehow, offering what you have, as big or small as it is, has a strange way of reaching beyond the very limits that you assumed could not make a difference. Click To Tweet

Holy Shift #2: From Nothing to Something

“What do you have?”

Whether it’s facing a giant, a dying church, or a government shutdown, it can feel like you have nothing and can do nothing. When you face a circumstance that makes you feel powerless and hopeless, your first instinct is to focus on what you don’t have. It often sounds something like “if we only had __________, we could ___________.” Sometimes it’s a glimpse into others’ grandiose closets that makes you think twice about what you can do. But instead of comparing, what if you would begin considering? Ruling out “nothing” as an answer, what is your “something”—even if small?

Do you have a talent or vocational skill, or relationship that could help someone?

Do you have a connection you could utilize?

Do you have a building to share?

Do you or does someone you know have extra time on their hands?

Do you have something that can be cut from your schedule to make room?

Do you have a passion you’ve never followed?

Do you have an ability you’ve never honed?

Too often, we conclude we have nothing and can do nothing because we’ve either minimized what God has given us or we’ve written off what God has given us.  But all of us have “something”—what is yours?

Too often we conclude we have nothing or can do nothing because we’ve minimized or written off what God has given us. But all of us have something to offer. What do you have? Click To Tweet

Holy Shift #3: From Limitation to Innovation

“What do you have?” Humans have always struggled with our limited nature. In the Fall, Adam and Eve’s temptation to eat of the tree to become like God stemmed from their recognition and desire to overcome their limitedness. In thousands of years of history, humans have strived to overcome every limit imaginable, sometimes slipping into self-destruction along the way. Whether physical, relational, financial, or communal, we usually see limitations as obstacles to avoid rather than face.

But limitation is the parent of innovation. Yes, dire situations can breed hopelessness, but they can also generate creativity.

Dr. Seuss wrote his most popular book “Green Eggs and Ham” on a friend’s bet that he couldn’t write an entire book using the same 50 words.

Madam C.J. Walker worked in the cotton fields and as a cook and laundress in post-Civil War America, which led her to start a line of beauty products and become one of the first female African American millionaires

High school students will come up with more names of animal species if you give them five minutes vs. ten minutes.

Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb (after failing many times) without a formal education.

Mother Theresa began her ministry in India though she had no supplies or support, teaching children by drawing in the dirt.

What do you have? If you’re limited in time, in resources, in finances, in space, or in perceived impact, it can actually help, not hinder. Limits can help you squeeze more out of less and even point you to a unique calling. What can you create with what you have?

So, What Do You Have?

It’s a good question. Whether you’re doing some Marie Kondo-ing, figuring out how to help in the government shutdown, feeling limited in time, people, or resources, discerning starting a new ministry, or seeking to follow a passion God has put in your heart, the answer to that question is the same.

What do you have?

You have more than you thought.

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10 responses to “The Failure of Complementarian Manhood

  1. Complementarianism is the symptom, not the disease. The real root issue here is authority. Men have invented false authority and perverted Scripture to justify it. You see it in the clergy/laity divide. You see it in doctrines of tithing. You see it in harsh judgements of cultural trends. And, of course, you see it in the home. Somebody has to be top dog. It’s the pastor, or the man of the house, or the church organization, or whatever. Somebody is in charge, others have to get in line. What’s really sad is it is completely upside-down and backwards compared to the message of Jesus, James, and Paul. We are all one in Christ and God does not show favoritism. Man, woman, master, slave, adult, child, Jew, Samaritan, Roman, Greek…all distinctions of race, gender, age, and social status fall away to nothing in the unconditional love of Christ. To take that freedom of the Spirit away from people is nothing short of despicable. Never settle for less than God’s perfect grace available equally to all.

    1. “Somebody has to be top dog.” You are right to trace what we’re seeing to the roots. And the root of the “authority” issue is patriarchy. Puts men over women, children, and other men. Definitely need to have deeper discussions about how we think re male & female. #malestrom

    2. “Somebody has to be top dog.”
      Let the Game of Thrones begin — dagger, poison, and Red Wedding.

  2. As a chaplain for almost ten years, and now as a small church pastor in the Chicago suburbs, I not only wince with pain at this whitewashing. I cry with all those who feel silenced by such heinous behavior.

    I quote: “How likely will it be for abuse victims to come forward, tell their
    stories, and seek help from the church when their ordeal is a matter of
    levity among the very men who (according to their own standard) should
    be the first to protect them?”

    How C.J. Mahaney continues to preach blithely is beyond me. And, moreover, in cahoots with Al Mohler? *shakes head in unbelief* @chaplaineliza

  3. “How, before a watching world, have T4G leaders cast yet another shadow over Christians who don’t share their views, but who care passionately for those who suffer and are actively engaged in acts of compassion and justice?”

    Well, look at local afternoon drive-time talk radio since the big Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal broke:
    “John Paul II — patron saint of child molesters.”
    “Father-PEDOPHILE so-and-so…”
    “Bishop-PEDOPHILE so-and-so…”
    “Cardinal-PEDOPHILE so-and-so…”
    “You know why the Catholic Church is against birth control? So they can breed more altarboys for their priests to molest.”

    While T4G types point and say “I Thank Thee, LOOOOOOOORD, That *I* Am Nothing Like Those Filthy Romish Papists Over There…”

  4. Complementarianism is a sham and always has been. It’s just like in an old children’s comic joke that goes like this: “We need a division of labor: I give the orders and you execute them”.

  5. It seems to me that the leaders of T4G were, in a twisted sort of way, following their “masculinity manifesto—that “real men” are the protectors of women and children.” Based on the examples of the “assailant with a lead pipe or a home intruder” and women and children should be first into the lifeboats, the enemy and threat are from the outside. In the situation with the abuse, there is no external threat; all the “enemies” are internal. To face squarely men such as Mahaney and complementarianism, requires men to look inside and deal with themselves and the system they created and maintain. Since the men are the ones in authority, they get to decide who or what is a threat that children and women need protection from. The threat surely cannot come from men acting in their “God appointed and ordained” roles ( : j ).

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