This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations or presbytery I serve.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Jesus Is From the Future.

Too often we want to restore a romanticized and largely invented past.  But Christianity is about manifesting now the future Kingdom of God.  Rather than looking back at a comfortable and sentimental lie, Christianity looks ahead to the truth revealed in Jesus.  In order to enforce a lie, violence is required, but to live in the truth all we need is love.
Nostalgia has been a virulent and ubiquitous disease in the church for my entire 37 year career as a pastor.  We have to deal all the time with people who idealize and idolize the-way-things-used-to-be.  This became a crisis in the 1970’s when the so-called mainline churches began hemorrhaging members, a situation that has continued unabated for four decades.  The generations that remember it are dying off now, but the memories of full churches and Sunday Schools continues to haunt us.
The 1950’s were not the Kingdom of God, in America or the church.  We had enforced segregation and regular lynchings.  We had women thoroughly relegated to second-class status.  We had environmental depredation and degradation increasing.  We had a nuclear arms race that was driving the world to the brink of annihilation.  We had colonialism oppressing people around the world.  We had bad and foolish policies that were planting the seeds for the terrorism and wars that are killing people now.  And we had a Christian establishment defending, rationalizing, and blessing all of it, even though it was categorically contrary to Jesus’ life and teachings.
  Churches may have been full.  Indeed, we were even building new ones all the time.  But our faith was revealed to be weak, shallow, and hollow.  Our complacency, privilege, self-righteousness, and ignorance eventually corroded our superficial “success.”  The gods we really worshiped were nationalism, capitalism, and racism.  We stoked our own egocentric fear, anger, and even hatred.  Like the Israelites with their golden calf, we pretended that these deities were the true God.
All those children in Sunday School in 1960?  Where are they?  If those days were so great, why did the message not stick?  Why did my generation abandon the church as soon as it could?  During the years of decline, it has became a reflex to find some nefarious element to scapegoat for this.  Conservatives blamed liberal caving in to pop culture; liberals blamed conservatives’ irrelevance.  But the church was itself to blame because it was not witnessing to Jesus Christ.  It had allowed itself to become little more than a vague religious justification for America and Western Civilization.    
I am in the tiny minority that stayed with the church.  That only happened because of the Holy Spirit and my reading of what Jesus really calls the church to be.  I hoped that some miracle would happen and the church would start living into his vision.
The Lord Jesus is not about the past.  Nowhere does he paint a picture of some long-ago perfect time that he has come to restore.  More to the point, Jesus is emphatically not about lifting up our nation, race, family, or even ourselves as individuals.  These are usually the categories that were supposedly doing so much better back in our days of past “greatness.” 
Jesus is about the future.  He is, in a sense, from the future.  How many times does he talk about “that Day”?  The gospel is inherently and necessarily apocalyptic in the sense that it is a revelation of what is, in the End, true and real.  His message is the nature and destiny of human beings and the creation.  Those of us who follow him are living in advance — the theological word is “proleptically” — the life of eternity.
The character of this life, which we see in him, is compassionate, generous, humble, self-emptying love.  It is the life of God which Jesus gives to us, models for us, and calls us into.  Jesus Christ is about this seemingly other world which is always being born among us.  
Trying to live in or bring back the past is only going to make us frustrated, angry, resentful, and violent.  To worship the past is to embrace extinction and drag as many down with us as we can.  It is to follow a lie, which never ends well.  (This valorization of a mythic national past, by the way, is the very core of fascism.) 
But turning to dwell together in God’s certain future revealed in Jesus Christ… that is true life.


Friday, October 19, 2018

Resistance Is Futile.

The problem with “resistance” as an approach, for all its echoes of ordinary people courageously fighting the Nazis in 1940’s Europe, is that it lets the agenda be set by what we are resisting.  It assumes that everything is basically fine except for this malignant aberration we have to resist.  It also is a basically negative idea, saying only what we don’t want, but nothing about what kind of a world we would like to see.  Resistance is too vague; people can claim to be part of a “resistance,” when all they are resisting are matters of style and personality, not policy.
The New Testament knows nothing of resistance.  Jesus even says, in his Sermon on the Mount, that we should not resist evil.  Commentators will point out that the verb refers to violent resistance, allowing for the possibility of non-violent resistance.  But the Lord is less about any kind of resistance than he is about actually neutralizing and overthrowing evil.  He goes exponentially farther than mere resistance or even revolution; he preaches and institutes the apocalyptic emergence of a totally different kind of order. 
The New Testament is perhaps the most thoroughly anti-imperialist document in all of ancient literature.  But it’s agenda is not about resisting Caesar and his regime so much as seeing it replaced by something completely different: the Kingdom of God.  
The Kingdom of God is not just a “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” political regime change.  It turns the whole system inside out and upside down.  And it is not just political and economic (and it most certainly is political and economic, make no mistake); it begins in human souls.  The Kingdom of God is an anti-empire that starts with changed ways of thinking and acting, and emerges as a new way of living together in a beloved community. 
Jesus’ announcement of the Kingdom of God happens directly following his rejection of the three temptations offered to him by Satan.  However, we choose to view Satan, he represents (or works through) the human ego, as seen by the three things he hangs in front of Jesus.  He is asked to manifest bread, create a popular spectacle, and grab earthly authority.  I boil these down to money, fame, and power.  These are three things our egocentricity is always trying to get us to embrace, usually with great success.  Jesus is saying that the Kingdom of God is not realized in us or among us until we have rejected these three temptations.
This is why the Kingdom of God is the anti-empire.  Empires are based on the enthusiastic and aggressive pursuit of those three goals by individuals and by societies.  And that is true for empires and social orders of the “right” and of the “left.”  Jesus accepts no such choice, and offers a completely different alternative.  He proposes a social-economic order based on the rejection of money, fame, and power as values.  In other words, he values poverty of spirit, humility, and gentleness, in addition to the other values he talks about at length in his teachings, especially in the Sermon on the Mount.
This order, which he calls the Kingdom of God, cannot be imposed by law from “above.”  It can only be built from below by people who know God’s grace and live by God’s Spirit and Jesus’ teachings and example.
It is important to remember that this is not some new thing Jesus invents.  He is talking about the Kingdom of God as the true and original order of the universe and human life, something deeply within us and embedded in creation itself, which we have to discover and live into by trusting in God.  The Kingdom is already here; it is we who are living in ignorance of this truth and need to be awakened to it.
The church is supposed to be the manifestation of this Kingdom.  We see glimpses of it in the communal nature of churches in Acts.  Yet our call to trust in the good news of the Kingdom is not to some romanticized past, but to the sure hope of God’s ultimate resolution in the future.