Christian Contractualism and What We Owe to Each Other

Early this year, I began down a winding path of professional development that has influenced my ethics and changed how I think about my place in the world. I began with learning about design thinking, systems thinking, and cybernetic strategy development, which led me to deep reflections on how we work together, what makes teams great, and ethics. Most recently, I read the book What We Owe to Each Other by T.M. Scanlon.

A couple of weeks ago, I experienced what I think was a nudge of the Holy Spirit that kicked off a chain of logic and an expansion of my worldview. Scanlon’s book doesn’t really have a firm conclusion of, “Therefore, we ought to do X, Y, and Z.” The book gives us lots of pieces and ideas, but Scanlon isn’t prescriptive. My Sunday morning rumination led me to a potential conclusion, though I’m still considering it.

In this post, I’ll briefly define contractualism, share the logic chain, and then the potential outcomes of my thinking.

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None of this has been about you

Last weekend, I listened to a sermon from the SW Vineyard Church in London: How do we handle conflict?

And this was joined to my reflections on some situations at work, and BLM and the riots, and the racists who are opposed to BLM, and the people who refuse to wear masks because it “infringes on their freedom.” There are a lot of power struggles going on. There are people in power, or who are used to having a privileged position, who feel threatened.

And when combining all of these thoughts with that sermon, this song came to mind. I didn’t know why at the time, but I listened to it again.

And I had an epiphany. Forgiveness isn’t about you, it’s about me.

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Deuteronomy 26:13

On tithing:

…then you shall say before the Lord your God, “I have removed the sacred portion out of my house, and moreover, I have given it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all your commandment that you have commanded me.”

Deuteronomy 26:13a in the English Standard Version

This really jumped out at me yesterday in regards to our giving:

  • The Levite: our tithe to Springfield Vineyard Church.
  • The sojourner: our donation to the ACLU who continue to advocate on behalf of immigrants, particularly the children imprisoned in internment camps on the southern border of the USA.
  • The fatherless: next month, we’ll begin giving to the Boys and Girls Club of Springfield. Those kids aren’t necessarily fatherless, but this fits with the idea of helping provide for kids.
  • The widow: our donation to both Planned Parenthood and the Pregnancy Care Center. Again, not specifically to widows, but potentially to help women who aren’t otherwise getting the help they need.

Verse 13 continues through verse 14:

I have not transgressed any of your commandments, nor have I forgotten them. I have not eaten of the tithe while I was mourning, or removed any of it while I was unclean, or offered any of it to the dead. I have obeyed the voice of the Lord my God. I have done according to all that you have commanded me.

Deuteronomy 26:13b-14 in the English Standard Version

Forgiving the North Side

The guy who cuts my hair normally wasn’t available. When I looked at the schedule online, I didn’t see him listed for several weeks, so I sought out the woman who had also cut my hair a couple of times in the last year and who had done a great job. I was dismayed to learn that she is no longer working at the barbershop near my home, but instead across town on Kearney Street. And thus I found myself driving to the North Side.

Everyone in Springfield knows that there is a North and South Side of the city. This was once codified, when the two towns were formed, as North Springfield and Springfield, and then they merged sometime after the Civil War. The train tracks were the natural divide, with poor workers living on the north and the merchants, doctors, and lawyers living on the south. Division Street happens to be on the parallel that divided the north and south in the Civil War, but Commercial Street is where Springfield was separated.

I grew up on the North Side. Not just the North, I was out in the country north of town. I went to Pleasant View elementary and middle school, and Hillcrest High School. A friend asked me recently if I knew I was poor growing up, and I told her that I did. We had a nice enough house, but we almost lost it to bankruptcy. I regularly stole food to get by. I didn’t have the opportunities a lot of my classmates did, and I was different enough from them that I was bullied and beaten as well. This is not an unusual tale on the North Side.

So when I have to go back there, it is with ambivalence. I am conflicted because I was hurt there, but when I drive out in the country north of town, I also love it. I love the trees and the rolling hills, and the solitude, and there were good memories too. Playing in Matt Wilson’s backyard, biking to the bridge near Fellow’s Lake with Megan, those rare opportunities when I was invited to Cody’s house. Matt Hudson’s class in high school, and working with Justin on IT stuff. Walking through the woods and across the hills behind our home. It was beautiful there.

But there was so much pain. My parents’ divorce. The concussions and spilled blood. Friends who committed suicide or overdosed or died in car crashes.

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Sermon archive

I’ve finally put the sermons that I have preached at Springfield Vineyard on this site. I’m using the Seriously Simple Podcasting plugin, almost exclusively because it provides a media enclosure for the audio file (so you can just click “play” instead of clicking a hyperlink or downloading the file), and I have set the date for each sermon post as the date on which it was delivered. It’s not ideal–the podcast “category” is its own separate thing, so sermons don’t show up in the Categories widget, and I had to use the podcasting widget and style it a bit–but it will do for now.

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Stop drawing lines between Jesus and people

Part of Tim’s sermon on Sunday was about identifying the lines drawn in our community and then working to either cross those lines or erase them. We have a lot of lines in Springfield: political, socioeconomic, north side vs. south side, education, etc. And because we live so close to these lines, it’s sometimes hard for us to even see they exist. We stop noticing the homeless, or impoverished, or under-educated. We stop caring.

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There’s no such thing as a Golden Age

What does it mean when a church fails? It doesn’t matter the cause… maybe it ran out of money, or out of people, or likely both; maybe the pastor was corrupt, or the people were corrupt, or both; maybe the building was destroyed in an earthquake and the people moved away. Whatever, it failed. The church fell. What does that mean?

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My Feedly Doth Overflow

In an interesting turn of events, though it may not be interesting to anyone but me, Christian Blogging has become commonplace. Krista linked to this page, on which she is featured, and I realized that blogs are very much a Thing now.

I know what you’re thinking. “Matthew, blogs are old. This isn’t news. Where the hell have you been?”

Let me take you back in time, dear reader, back when blogs were new. Back before WordPress existed. Back when the Internet began to show signs of what it would become when the Eternal September began, and when AOL and Compuserve and Prodigy became our means of seeing honest to god graphics and pictures and blink tags. I was online around 1998, and have been active in only the way someone from my generation can be, by which I mean we think of being on the Internet as something distinct from, say, breathing, or eating, or going to work. Mine is the last generation to grow up in the United States without the ubiquity of the Internet, when every office wasn’t necessarily connected, and you had to go out of your way to interact with others via the tubes that connect us.

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Divisions in the Springfield Church

I probably don’t follow local politics as closely as I ought. I met the council member who represented my zone of the city once. I will occasionally hear about stuff that the city council is discussing, and I vote regularly, but I don’t really have my finger on the pulse of the city. If the city had low blood pressure and an arrhythmic heart, I might not notice for a while.

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A Hypothetical Plan: Annual Jubilee

I’m reading a book right now that talks about The Politics of Jesus, and right now I’m reading about jubilee, or the period forgiveness of debt in ancient Israel.

I know there are some fellows who are doing this on a massive scale through the Rolling Jubilee, but as I was walking across campus just now, I began to think about it on a more local level.

What if churches began practicing an annual jubilee by raising money and then paying off the debt of a member?

Come talk about it on Google+