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Book Review: Live Like You Give a Damn! By Tom Sine

Thursday, 6 October 2016  | Trevor Thomas (reviewer)

Part literature review, part handbook for group discussion, and peppered with anecdotes and illustrations, Live Like You Give a Damn! (Tom Sine, Cascade, 2016) is a primer for those who want to engage with the most exciting and engaging expressions of God’s Spirit that Tom and his extensive network have uncovered.

Does the future have a church?

Enormous social, economic and cultural changes are at work in the world, redefining the way we live, our hopes, dreams and even what we define as the ‘good life’. Much of what the church currently invests time and money doing appears increasingly less relevant to those inheriting the world in the throes of such significant change.

Tom Sine is worried. He has spent a lifetime looking over the horizon to discern what is coming. He is confident that the future has a church but he thinks that church needs to be radically restructured to engage a culture in transition. ‘As we gallop into the increasingly turbulent 2020s, business as usual in lives, communities and congregations will no longer serve’, he warns.

While Sine has always had a prophetic edge to his writing, he is no cranky old man. As he has done since The Mustard Seed Conspiracy was first published in 1981, the octogenarian optimist looks to the future with an expectation that God’s Spirit will continue to stir people to grasp the challenges and opportunities of this changing world.

Drawing stories from many nations, Tom exhilarates in the creativity of young adults who are making a difference, and who see that following Jesus in the 21st century requires an intentional and sustained resistance against the values of consumer capitalism. These are values that weaken community life, have a deleterious impact on mental health, despoil the environment and the carrying capacity of the planet and exert far too much influence on the Western Church.

Sine’s call to revolution is one of radical reinvention. Followers of Jesus don’t simply need a new strategy; the challenge is ontological - Live Like You Give a Damn! We need Jesus’ ‘counterinsurgency of compassion and hope’ working its way into all corners of our existence if the church is to be seen to carry good news into the future. Sine’s desire is that we learn to re-connect our deepest longings with the good purposes of God in the world, and in that spirit engage with others in our community in a spirit of collaboration and service.

This requires new thinking, new practices and the active stimulation of the wellsprings of human creativity. Innovation should not enrich the few but rather build community, extend opportunity, include the marginalised, respect the fragile ecology of the planet and in so doing help us to redefine what we understand as the good life.

As Walter Brueggemann says in the foreword, Tom Sine is filled with energy, as is his writing. ‘His numerous case studies remind me of the narrative of the young church in the book of Acts in which the church is on the move in ways that transform and cannot be stopped, even by the frightened, bewildered imperial authorities’.

Not content to leave readers on the sidelines, Sine directly challenges readers to make serious time to consider their life goals and purposes. He outlines a step-through a process designed to help people open themselves to think and live differently. Each sub-chapter concludes with an entreaty to ‘grab your iPad or a notebook’ and get creative with others in your community.

Those under 35 are challenged to see this time as theirs to lead. Those over 35 are encouraged to pause, listen and learn – and to be prepared to get out of the way when necessary. Sine’s hope is that the Millennials - digital natives who have grown up in the shadow of 9/11, the Global Financial Crisis and the early impacts of climate change - have the tools and the passion to make a real difference. Examples abound: from community gardens rejuvenating urban squalor; to YGAP’s Kinfolk Café in Bourke St Melbourne, where volunteer workers generate a surplus that supports community development in Australia and Ghana; to a UN-sponsored community revitalisation project in Pristina, Kosovo, where 70 participants used the on-line game Minecraft as a tool to redesign a large public space that had been destroyed by conflict in the region.

In between stories about community development and service, Sine intermingles humorous self-deprecating anecdotes with examples of cutting edge innovation in far-flung parts of the globe. He sees the cross-fertilising emergence of Social Impact Investment and social entrepreneurship as keys to redefining economic life. They not only show a different, more inclusive pathway forward, but also have the capacity to advance human development and ecological sustainability at a greater scale and velocity than government or philanthropy alone.

Nigerian farmer and entrepreneur, Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, sees every freshly harvested tomato as a ticking clock. Each one has less than two days to run before it is unusable in the hot African climate. He has responded by combining existing technologies in innovative ways, to turn standard shipping containers into solar-powered ‘ColdHubs’. He is working to see these cost-effective units in markets all over the country to extend the shelf life of the tomato to three weeks. This has an immediate and profound impact by increasing farm incomes and reducing the cost of spoilage in a hungry nation.

Sine’s survey of the Western church finds pockets of vibrancy where entrepreneurial energy and drive like Nnaemeka’s inspires people, particularly the young, to rethink faith and life. Marshalling well known trends of declining church attendance and congregational giving, Tom is keen to point out that Gen Y and Gen Z do not want to be part of congregations caught in the ‘Whirlpool’, where most time and resources are focused on simply maintaining existing buildings and programs. They are also increasingly unconvinced by churches that have been captured by the values and aspirations of the dominant culture – chaplains to the American Dream.

Authentic expressions of faith for Millennials are evolving and growing and those flames need to be fanned at every opportunity. The pace of change is only increasing, and it will require a concerted effort to ensure that vibrant expressions of Christian faith not only survive but also flourish.

Tom is an innovator himself (with mixed success, by his own admission). With his wife Christine, they model in their community the life he calls others to, living as they do in a multigenerational households of hospitality, celebration, feasting and inclusion. They participate in community gardens that connect people to the land and get them working together, and support a wide range of social enterprises in their local area that create meaningful economic opportunities outside the shopping malls and skyscrapers. In so doing, they seek to invite others to a life of celebration, opportunity and worship. Live Like You Give a Damn! is your invitation to join in.

Trevor Thomas is the Managing Director of Ethinvest, and a Trustee of the Community Impact Foundation. He and his family are members of Newtown Mission in Sydney’s inner city. Prior to joining Ethinvest, Trevor spend 6 years working in Mission and Development in Argentina and Paraguay.

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