The Tortured Christ Is Our Brother

Today’s Moltmann Monday reading comes from Jesus Christ for Today’s World. It’s a great little book of essays and pretty readable, too. He talks often in this book about the arms race, and about Chernobyl, and I was saddened as I skimmed through it this morning that, though these events are far behind us, we also haven’t really changed. The arms race is happening other places, and in other ways. Chernobyls echo here and there as we see the negative effects of our actions in our global health and ecology. How do we respond? What do we do? How then shall we live? Well, let’s consider how we view other people, particularly people who are being harmed, tortured, oppressed, discriminated against, murdered. Here’s Moltmann, on that point:

At the center of the Christian faith is the history of a passion: the history of the betrayed, denied, tortured and crucified Christ. No other religion has a martyred figure at its center. This has evoked revulsion among many aesthetes..But among feeling men and women it has evoked sympathy too. The helplessness and forsakenness of Christ awakens our compassion, just like the helpless baby in the manger. What does the torture of Christ have to say about torture in general? Does his torture justify torture by Christians, or the torture of the enemies of Christianity, either here on earth or–even more–afterwards in hell? Or does the tortured Christ mean the end of torture, because he is the end of every possible justification of torture, whether it be religious or secular?…

The evangelists tell the story of Christ’s passion in detail, but never with masochistic pleasure over the history of someone’s suffering, and never in order to arouse sympathy. They tell it as God’s history: God with us- with us in our suffering and our torment; and God for us- for us in our guilt. They talk about the solidarity of God-become-human– his solidarity with us until death– and about the representation of the God who intervenes on our behalf.

Between ISIS and Ferguson and Gaza, it feels to me like there’s violence in every direction. I’ve heard people say some pretty calloused and terrible things about these situations, and though I understand that people disagree on the complex politics and worldview behind these issues, what bothers me most is how so many of the remarks are made with such…distance. I think we should all be worried by the indifference and self-righteousness that underpins so much of the conversation. No matter  your politics, our ground floor response ought to be something other than indifference, to be sure. And certainly other than disdain, or dismissal, or, God forbid, hatred.  If we are to respond, should we not begin with love?

Well, yes, of course. But let’s just be clear about how radical Christianity is: No other religion has a martyred figure at its center. Can we just think about that for a minute? We are some kind of strange, we Christians, because we follow a God who, in the face of violence and death, died rather than fighting back. In that act, Christ identified himself with all who suffer, all who are tortured and murdered and betrayed. What that means for us is that, as Christians, we can’t be indifferent to suffering. Because when we see someone suffering violence, we are reminded of Jesus. We don’t have to equate them with Jesus, but we notice that they are suffering in the same way that Jesus suffered.  This should provide us pause, because every time, it’s a reorientation of everything we tend to think about God Almighty. Jesus is like that person. More importantly, Jesus is with that person.  Jesus allowed himself to become like them–rejected, despised, scourged–so that they would never be without him.

And I don’t mean that in a “take away your personal sins” sort of way. I mean that in a “here to change the world and the systems of the world so that they become more like the Realm of God” sort of way. Jesus is with those who suffer personally, but this is far more than a personal thing. It’s a cultural, political, sociological thing. And we can’t sit on the sidelines and focus only on a “personal” Jesus who doesn’t also care a great deal about the suffering ones. What I’m saying is: clearly, the world in all its violence is broken, and if we follow Christ, we have to be part of trying to fix that, take ownership of that, take responsibility for that, take that in a new, healing kind of direction. We are not to make snide comments from the sidelines. Let’s be reminded of Jesus when we see suffering, and respond accordingly.

The tortured Christ is our brother. And because of that, we also remember this: the tortured brother is loved by our Christ.

 

 

 

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Helping Your Child Set Intentions For The School Year

It’s that time of year again. Ready or not, parents are gearing up for the flurry of activity that always accompanies the first weeks of school. A perennial nerd, I love this time of year. It always feels like a more natural New Years Day, where resolutions and new intentions make the most sense. This is probably a testament to the amount of time I spent in school, or the fact that I’d barely been out of grad school 4 years before my oldest child started kindergarten, thereby never. leaving. the. school. calendar. (I don’t complain: I will be 80 and living by a school year calendar. January to December?! That is no way to organize your year, people.) That being said, I do all my big planning and visioning in August. I do my “what do I want out of life?” pep talks over the summer, so I can hit the ground running in September. Back to School week has always been my reset button, my ready-set-go buzzer.

As a parent, then, it comes as no surprise that I’ve created a little ritual for back to school pep-talking with my kids. It has two parts: intention and introspection. The week before school begins, my husband and I divide and conquer, each of us taking one of our children to dinner at the place of their choosing. During dinner, we first tackle intention, because it’s more direct. We talk about how they’re feeling about school, about what they are hoping for this year, about any fears they have, any worries. We ask questions- LOTS of questions. What one thing do you want to do this year? What new thing(s) can you try? How can you make new friends? Strengthen your current friendships? How do you want to FEEL this school year, and how are you going to make that feeling happen? Is there something you want to reach for? Is there a big goal you want to shoot for?

The second part of dinner is about helping our kids practice introspection. We ask more questions. What about who you are makes you the most proud? What comes really naturally to you? What makes you feel most alive, most happy? How can we encourage you to pursue those things? And, because introspection means knowing yourself fully, we also talk about building character. What do you think is the one trait you need to work on the most? Where do you need to grow? We give them feedback, of course, because that’s a huge part of parenting, right? We mirror back to our kids what they need to know about themselves. “Yes, I see you light up when you do X. I do think you could work more on Y and Z. My hope for you this year is that you become more ____.”

After dinner, we switch. We do dessert with the other child, and we ask for a recap. Dessert started as just a way for us both to have face-time with each of the kids, but it just so happens that this jibes well with education theory books that show, time and again, that summarizing is an absolutely critical part of learning anything at all. It’s when things become real, and stick. If we want our kids to be intentional and introspective, it’s great for them to practice summarizing those conversations in their own words. It also reinforces their sense of agency: they are choosing their lives, they are running this thing. During dessert, we mostly listen, but we get the chance to chime in and agree and add in our own observations. Again, we mirror back to our child what we see, for better and worse, all with eyes full of love.

The reason for all of this is not to put pressure on our kids. We aren’t about that. We aren’t even the kinds of people who set really specific, hard-lined goals. It’s far more big picture than all of that. And we certainly don’t want to be the kinds of parents who set goals for their children. We take our kids to dinner and talk with them about their hopes and intentions and goals for the year because we want to make them conscious of their actions. We want to remind them that they are in charge of their own futures. We want them to be agents of their own lives. We want them to feel the reins in the palm of their hands, and steer the way accordingly.

Do you know how easy it is to live an unintentional life? It’s so easy, it’s scary. You get up, you go through the motions, you do what you need to do…and you look up in a moment of clarity and realize you haven’t been conscious about anything you’re doing. You’re letting life live YOU, instead of acting as an agent of your own life. You have chosen nothing; you are just accepting whatever comes your way, and reacting to it. The only way to change that is to become aware; to wake up and realize that you actually have a lot of control over what you do with your day. You set the course; you determine the attitude. You decide who you will be. You choose what you will practice, and what you practice is who you become.

I want our kids to become, to the fullest extent possible, exactly who God has created them to be. I want them to be whole, and fully alive, and AWAKE to the kind of life they are choosing to live. I don’t care what sport or activity they choose, or what interest they decide upon, but I do want to help them practice virtue, and self-awareness. And I absolutely want to help them learn to do what Parker Palmer calls “listening to your life.” Knowing your passions. Honing your gifts. Finding your purpose. The best way I know how to do that is through a one-two-punch of intention and introspection. Practice intentionality. Set the course of your own life. Think about where you need to grow, and make a point to do things that will help you grow.

Our kids will change so much over the course of this school year. They will become, in so many ways, totally different people by May. That’s all good- it’s part of the process. The hope is to help them notice the changes, and even direct them when possible.

 

For all of you who are deep in the flurry of back to school insanity, I send you love and hope and prayers for a beautiful year. Let’s walk alongside our kids with intention and introspection, so that all of us can be awake and alive to all that God has in store.

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Moltmann Monday: Open Friendship

Happy Moltmann Monday! This morning’s selection comes from one of my favorite books, The Church in the Power of the Spirit. Moltmann is talking about the concept of friendship and how central it is to the life of faith- and as a posture of the Church. Open friendship is such a great metaphor; I use it all the time to summarize what I find to be a central role of church.

This modern intimacy and transference of friendship to the private sphere is quite foreign to Jesus’ friendship with his disciples and with people who were publicly known as tax-collectors and sinners. In order to live in his friendship today, Christians must acquire the character of public protection and public respect.

The friendship of Jesus cannot be lived and its friendliness cannot be disseminated when friendship is limited to people who are like ourselves and when it is narrowed down to private life. The messianic feast which Jesus celebrates with his own and with the despised and unregarded is not merely ‘the marriage of the soul with God’; it is also ‘the festival of the earth’…When we compare the ancient and the modern concept of friendship it becomes clear that Christians must show the friendship of Jesus in openness for others, and totally. In his Spirit they will become the friends of others. They will spread friendliness through a sane passion for humanity and the freedom of man…

Open friendship prepares the ground for a friendly world.

One quick thing to mention, for context: Moltmann describes the role of friends in ancient culture, and indeed it was a far more robust understanding than the one we have today, which is kind of like a vague sense of getting along with someone and wanting to go places sometimes with them. Friendship in the way he means it here is much deeper, condoning a sense of equals, a sense of mutuality and support. He writes, “Friendship unites affection with respect.” As a posture for the Church, living in open friendship with the world means looking upon all of creation in this same kind of way. Not in a way that’s domineering, or dictatorial. Not being self-righteous or self-serving about it. We stand in relation to the world as those who love and respect it, and who seek its welfare. We are open to the world. We leave ourselves open to this relationship with it, and we do so in a posture of love and honor.

Friendship unites affection with respect. When we think of it that way, that Jesus calls us friend- that Jesus lived a life of moving intentionally toward people on the margins and calling them friends- is so very beautiful, is it not? Jesus looks at us- at every last one of us- with affection and respect.

I tell you what: that can change a person, being looked at like that.

Let’s follow his lead and do likewise. It prepares the ground for a friendly world- and a transformed world.

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The Rules of Forgiveness

If the interwebs are any indication, I worry sometimes that as Christians we are not altogether certain how this forgiveness business works. Rules of forgiveness? you may scoff. That seems harsh and wrong and unfeeling! But no- it isn’t. There are good and bad ways to forgive and ask forgiveness. You can do it wrong. Google any politician who has given a half-hearted “sorry for getting caught” apology and you will see what I mean. We have all seen far too many celebrities (religious and otherwise) give pleas for forgiveness that didn’t seem right with our souls, and to deny that or question that is unwise. If we sense something’s off, it’s probably because something’s off. And that’s because there are rules to forgiveness. There are better and worse ways to go about doing it.

You may have made the connection that I’ve been reluctantly following online conversations about a prominent church pastor who has once again found himself in the spotlight for actions that are, to put it mildly, less than admirable. If you don’t know who I’m talking about, it doesn’t matter, and it’s probably preferable. I’m not writing this post about him, but about what bothers me about the way I see Christians discussing and engaging questions of forgiveness and grace, particularly in relation to pastors/leaders who are caught in the wrong. It’s like we get caught in the brambles of guilt about our need to be a forgiving people (which, of course, we are called to be) and we throw out in the process any ability to wisely discern how to do that in a way that actually calls the person’s actions to their logical, necessary consequences. The result of this confusion is often a continuation of abuse, a repeating cycle of questionable behavior. Put another way, doing forgiveness wrong doesn’t lead us to the goal of forgiveness, which is reconciliation.

So, what are these rules? Well, when faced with anyone in the entire world who has done something wrong and has asked forgiveness for it, there is but one clear Christian response, and that is to forgive the person. We forgive the person over and over, ad infinitum, because grace is crazy and doesn’t run out and God loves us that same kind of way. It is scandalous and totally goes against our usual inclinations, but that’s clearly the “Christian ethic.”

HOWEVER, there is not a time limit on this process. Some things can be forgiven quickly, like when one young sibling pulls the other one’s hair. It shouldn’t really take more than 30 minutes to get on the other side of that one. Forgiving a friend for saying something truly awful to you? That might take a few days or weeks. Forgiving an abusive parent or spouse? Forgiving the person who killed your loved one? That might take years and years. Reconciliation and forgiveness are things we move toward. It’s not a sprint. Done rightly and mindfully, in many cases it simply cannot be done quickly. And that’s assuming that the person requesting forgiveness is taken as genuine.

What happens when the apology doesn’t seem genuine? How can you tell the difference? Well, here’s one way of determining it: if a person is truly repentant, the apology holds within it a desire to make amends, and those amends are left open to the determination of the person(s) that were harmed. So, for example, if Jim stole credit for an idea at work that was really his co-worker June’s idea, and if Jim is truly repentant, when he apologizes he asks what he can do to make amends. And if June says, well, you can go tell the boss that it was my idea, then Jim does that. Of course, if June uses this acquiescence of power to exploit him, and she says, well, you can give me all your stock options and quit your job, or some such nonsense, then Jim can obviously decide that’s not entirely fair. But let me be clear: I can count one time that I’ve ever seen that happen as a pastor. Most of the time, the harmed person comes up with a really just and fair way for the person to make amends. Quite often, the apology itself is seen as enough, and the two can move forward.

It starts to smell funny when someone apologizes and then doesn’t leave him/herself open for making amends, or decides him/herself what the amends are going to be. I don’t think that’s doing forgiveness right, because it isn’t leaving yourself open to the person(s) harmed. And that’s what is required of you in forgiveness- you open yourself up to the person you harmed. You stop being defensive and become responsive.

It seems to me that people only start calling for leaders’ heads to roll when an apology is coupled with a refusal to be responsive to the actual needs of the people harmed. It’s like the situation becomes def-con 5, because everyone senses this unholy marriage between an appeal for forgiveness and an unwillingness to do what forgiveness requires. If this happens, instead of saying that the harmed party is not acting “Christian” enough, it might behoove us to step back and see why the normal rules of forgiveness aren’t playing out in the way they’re designed. Because people who feel truly apologized to, on the whole, don’t respond with vindictiveness, or vengefulness. They respond with “thank you.” If that response isn’t happening, maybe it’s because the rules of forgiveness aren’t being followed.

There is also the question of what we do after the offering of pardon, and there is not just one clear Christian ethic. There are many ways to proceed, all of which can be construed as truly Christian ways of moving forward.

1) The two parties move forward together, in the same kind of relationship as in the past

2) One party wants the relationship to continue as-is, and the other party does not feel it is possible to do so.

3) Both parties agree that it is best to part ways

It seems to me that the response many Christians expect, in every situation, is the first one. And that is just categorically naive, not to mention potentially harmful in so many situations. An abused spouse may choose to forgive, but has every right to decide to leave that marriage out of fear for the same situation happening again. Even if it’s believed the situation most likely wouldn’t happen again (which also seems naive), an abused spouse has every right to say: I can’t look at this person in love anymore. I sure can’t sleep with this person. I can’t risk having my children live with this person. Etc. Etc. That is wise and just. It is not, in any way, unChristian.

To put it on a communal scale, a congregation can decide, after finding that a pastor or leader has had an affair, or embezzled money, or has exhibited abusive behavior, or has been ethically suspect in a way that shows a detrimental pattern, can decide to forgive the person and yet determine that the person is no longer (and perhaps never was) capable or commendable to hold a position of authority. Especially one of religious authority, which has the potential to be the most damaging kind, if done badly. To remove a bad spiritual leader from spiritual leadership is the most Christian thing to do. It honors both parties, because it removes a person from leadership for which he is clearly not fit, and it also honors those who were harmed by this poor leadership and who no longer wish to follow someone who does not uphold the very values a spiritual leader ought to possess. To call that unChristian is…well, it’s crazy, honestly. It’s not unforgiving. It’s not mean. It’s just and wise.

To put it on a national scale, if we discover that the President has, say, bugged the offices of his rival political party, we can forgive him (and should), but we can decide to remove him from office because he acted in a way that is contrary to the office of the President and because he justifiably lost the trust of the democratic nation he was commissioned to represent. This is also wise and just.

Miroslav Volf described this best in his must-read book Exclusion and Embrace in terms of the rules of embrace. The person asking forgiveness makes an apology. They then ask for reconciliation, meaning, they do what they can to make amends. The result of this is that the person in the wrong then opens his arms to ask for a response. And then he waits. He stands there, vulnerably with his arms wide open, and waits. It is up to the other party to decide whether or not to embrace. And it’s critical for the decision to be theirs, and theirs alone.

Obviously, the goal is the embrace. That’s the highest hope. But it isn’t always possible. And even when embrace happens, the next step is letting go. It’s releasing both parties from the embrace, after which there still needs to be decisions on how to proceed best.

My point is this: while it’s true that the Christian ethic is unequivocally one of forgiveness, it is not at all true that the gospel requires us to accept some kind of eternal embrace with someone who has done us wrong. If there is any Christian ethic at work here, it’s that God is on the side of the oppressed. God is on the side of the abused, the victimized, the silenced. God doesn’t leave the oppressors alone or abandoned, but the side God favors is clear. It’s the powerless. (See: the cross.)

Also, a blanket appeal to Christian forgiveness does not mean that we should not be incredibly, attentively, carefully selective of those we choose to lead us spiritually. Yes, the Gospel is full of misfits and mess-ups. But I can’t think of one example in Scripture of God being on the side of someone who is a serial abuser. I sure don’t see God appointing people who are unwilling to change. (Pick a prophet, any prophet, and get a sense of the tone God feels about people who are stubborn or unwilling to change.) Sure, Peter denied Jesus three times, but he didn’t KEEP DOING IT, over and over again. The denial was more of an anomaly than a pattern. Sure, David messed up in a huge way with Bathsheba, but you don’t see the same story played out, over and over, with the result of multiple murdered soldiers with attractive widowed wives at home. What I’m saying is that we can take the “God works through screw-ups” thing too far, particularly as it pertains to spiritual leaders. Yes, thank God, God works through all of us, and we are all screw-ups. But the idea that God would be okay with someone whose life pattern continues to show a disconcerting lack of harmony with the life of Christ being appointed- and maintained- as a spiritual leader to anyone is suspect.

Forgiveness is absolutely central to the Gospel, but that doesn’t mean we give everyone some kind of eternal “Get Out of Consequences Free” card. That’s irresponsible. If we care so much about forgiveness, we should care enough to practice it wisely and justly, and not blindly.

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Sometimes the Bible isn’t “relatable.” Deal with it.

My friend Chris Schmidt, who always posts the best articles on his FB page, posted another fabulous one yesterday from the New Yorker called The Scourge of Relatability. You should go read it, and then come back.

Did you? Did you? I hope so. If not (sigh), then here’s a brief recap: Rebecca Mead responded to Ira Glass’ tweet in which he called Shakespeare “unrelatable” with a very on-point discussion of the questionable importance of relatability. When did we become so obsessed with this need to be relatable? Why is it all of a sudden the barometer for all works of literature, art, and talk show host appearances?

I couldn’t help but think about how this relates to the complaints I hear often about reading Scripture. Any preacher knows what I’m talking about, because preachers are asked to make Scripture “relatable” to someone’s life in 2014 America, which is a lot to ask of someone, trying to bridge 2000 years in 20 minutes with a soul-stirring resolution to boot. I have a working thesis that this is why preachers often skip the Old Testament passages. Jesus is hardly relatable most of the time- he’s an eccentric unemployed single guy who operated in a way that no culture, before or since, would find normative. But that’s an easy sell when compared with Elijah challenging a group of Baal’s prophets in a duel on whose God can make fire come onto an altar. What’s relatable about that? How can we begin to “compare” that to our current reality? Maybe the WWF? The Super Bowl? The Cold War? More importantly: IF it’s relatable to something today, does that necessarily mean it’s a good thing? If my current experience becomes relatable to

Look: if you’re reading about tribal wars amongst people who believed in varying forms of sacrifice and thought the earth was a dome-shaped entity composed of three parts, which is to say, reading large portions of the Bible, it’s not particularly relatable. But that is hardly the point of reading it. I was listening to a podcast yesterday and someone (who was not a person of faith) mentioned how utterly strange and unrelatable the Bible was, as if that fact was a) not totally obvious to any of the 2.2 billion Christians in the world, and b) a slam-dunk case against reading it. Why, he asked, would you ever want to read something written by people who didn’t understand half of what we do about the human mind, or the universe? I had to wonder whether this guy ever took the time in college to read Plato, who didn’t know a whit about our current body of work in psychology or neurobiology. Did he not study the Pythagorean theorem in mathematics, since the Pythagoreans performed rites of purification for their souls, believing that to be the way to ascend to the gods? Does he find Sun Tzu’s The Art of War equally distasteful because it doesn’t cover areas of of guerrilla warfare or terrorism?

I just don’t happen to believe that relatability is the means by which we decide whether something is worth reading. I have no desire personally to catch a whale, but I think reading Moby Dick was a good use of my time. I have no idea what it’s like to live by the Mississippi River in the late 1800s, much less what it’s like to be a rowdy young boy who enjoys playing risky pranks on people, but I still quite enjoyed reading Tom Sawyer. I absolutely do not understand, nor want to live under, the courting rules of 19th century England but that hasn’t kept me from adoring Pride and Prejudice. This is to say nothing of reading books and stories from completely different cultures than my own, of people experiencing joys and horrors far removed from my own life. I read books to gain perspective on things which do not directly “relate” to my own experience.

As this relates to matters of reading Scripture, I think the problem is that we wrongly expect for Scripture to “make sense” to us. We expect it to be readily understandable. And most of the time, it just isn’t. This is not a normal book, first of all. You don’t read it like you read Moby Dick, much less like you read The Hunger Games. You don’t read it because it is directly and easily relatable to your life. You read it precisely because it is odd, and strange, and it forces you to pay attention and read slowly and figure out the context and then ask yourself really big questions about the meaning of life and the character of God and the actions of humanity. That is not an easy task. Which is why I am so constantly baffled when people are surprised to find that it’s actually hard work to do it.

What were you expecting, exactly?! The Bible is not a self-help book. God help us, some people have tried to make it into one. But that’s not what it is. It’s not direct. It’s not plain-spoken. It’s not, and never will be, “relatable.” That’s the reason it stirs our souls, when we read it deeply. It calls us into a deeper kind of knowing, a deeper kind of questioning and wondering and pondering. The Bible is weird and strange and sometimes even offensive. That doesn’t mean it isn’t absolutely worth reading. It absolutely means it requires our attention, our focus, our grappling and questioning. And when we read it, we cannot do so with the assumption that it’s only or primarily about us.

Says Mead, at the conclusion of her article:

But to demand that a work be “relatable” expresses a different expectation: that the work itself be somehow accommodating to, or reflective of, the experience of the reader or viewer. The reader or viewer remains passive in the face of the book or movie or play: she expects the work to be done for her. If the concept of identification suggested that an individual experiences a work as a mirror in which he might recognize himself, the notion of relatability implies that the work in question serves like a selfie: a flattering confirmation of an individual’s solipsism.

The Bible doesn’t exist to please you as its primary audience, or to make you feel understood. It does that sometimes, but that’s not its primary role. Its job is to make you think deeply about the world, and about God, and about your role in it. Its purpose is to form you, and change you- and not just you, but the whole community in which and with which you read it. You can’t expect the Bible to do the work for you. It requires effort, and engagement, and attention. It’s soul work, not beach reading.

When read right, Scripture does the very opposite of a selfie: it holds a mirror to your soul, and it shows you, for better and worse, what’s happening in there.

And, wonder of wonders, when it does that anti-selfie work, it becomes the deepest form of “relatable” there is: it becomes transformative to your very life. So read carefully.

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Moltmann and Barth on heaven and earth

Happy Moltmann Monday! Since I talked a little about the relationship between heaven and earth (and new heaven and new earth) last night at Journey, and because I recently mentioned how a theologian’s personal life DOES get reflected in their theology, I thought this would be just the passage for today. It comes from God in Creation, in the middle of a long (and wonderful) section about how heaven and earth are related to one another. For some background before I get to the quote, Moltmann is explaining how Karl Barth (German theology guy) wrote that there is a correlation between how heaven and earth and related and how God and humans are related. And this is a categorically, across the board hierarchical one. Barth says this himself. And then in the course of his theology, he uses this assumption to describe the relationship between soul and body (huge problems) and men and women (obviously, huge problems). So, with that said, here’s Moltmann (bold mine):

The characteristics of the analogy which Barth advances- above-below, earlier-later, more-less- do certainly apply to the relationship between God and human beings in a certain sense. But they do not fit the general relationship of their particular ‘dwellings’- heaven and earth. And in actual fact these general characteristics do not really tally with the relationship between God and human beings either. If we look at salvation history as a whole, and consider the becoming-human of the Son of God, and the participation of human beings in the divine nature, we see that the relationship between God and human beings is much richer than those simple marks of sovereignly and obedience would suggest. The love of God is quite evidently directed towards the earth, and the world in which human beings exist. The object of love cannot have a ‘below’ or a ‘later’, let alone a ‘less’…If we wish to relate heaven and earth to God in a trinitarian sense, not in a monarchical one like this, we should have to say that heaven is the chosen dwelling place of the Father, but that the chosen dwelling of the Son is the earth, on which he became a human being, died and rose again, and where he will come in order to fill it with his glory. But then the chosen place of the Holy Spirit must be seen in the coming direct bond between heaven and earth in the new creation, as whose energy the Holy Spirit already manifests himself now, in the present. That is why we cannot talk about a ‘contrast’ in the relationship between heaven and earth; we can only speak of a complementation. We cannot think of the one as over against or superior to the other; we can only talk about the fellowship and community of God’s created beings.

Okay- that might bring up more questions for you, to which I’d say, you do need to read the whole chapter. But here’s why I find this so so so so so very important: God is intimately, radically, relationally connected to earth and all that is in it. There is, clear as day, a very intentional and deliberate intertwining between heaven and earth throughout the whole of Scripture. When Jesus taught us to pray, he focused on this connection and relationship- Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Heaven and earth are not the same, but they are absolutely connected. Which is crazy, in the best kind of way. What it means is that God has cast God’s lot in with creation. Our future and the “kingdom of heaven” are headed in the same direction, because God holds them together in love and deep relationship. So much so that we cannot speak of the trinity without seeing it, as Moltmann described above. Heaven is the realm of God, earth is the realm of the Son, and the Spirit holds the two together. Well, and actually, Jesus does too- it’s not on accident that the cross is both vertical and horizontal. It’s not confusion that has the gospel writers calling him “Son of Man” and “Son of God.” There’s a deep relationship happening.

You may find this obvious, which, GREAT. My fear is that much of American Christianity has this way of talking about heaven that is…not what is described above. It’s way far away, it’s categorically different, it’s maybe a little static, like God never changes or time doesn’t happen or all these other things that may or may not be true. (Well, the static thing is definitely not true; otherwise there would be no need for a new heaven, would there?) But the danger of seeing heaven hierarchically (well, I could go on and on but here’s my point for just today) is that earth becomes a “less than”, and the minute we do that, this whole gospel project starts to fall apart. We start thinking up all kinds of other “less thans” and believe me, history has had quite enough of that already. We start to think our lives don’t matter, our choices aren’t that big of a deal, caring for creation is no big issue, how we relate to one another is mildly inconsequential.

But if we see the earth as intimately and deliberately interwoven with God’s coming future, if there is no new heaven without a new earth, if there is no one without the other, then what we see is a tiny glimpse of how powerful this relationship is between God and what God has made. It is LOVE, big time, in ways that make crazy little sense. Why would God get so tangled up with this mess? I can’t answer that, but it is crystal clear from Genesis to Revelation that God has done exactly that. God is not outside, guys. There is no outside. This all matters- a lot. We are moving together toward a shared future, and we’ve all got to take that very seriously…which could seem overwhelming, if we forget to remember that the love of God is holding this whole thing together, so it’s more than possible.

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Book news…

Well, dear friends, many of you ask me often about what I’m working on, so I thought I’d give an update. I wrote a book after returning from my trip to the Holy Land, and I’m delighted to say it’s going to be published. Soon I’ll be able to tell you more about it, and all the details of what it’s about and when it’s arriving.

In addition, I’ve got a couple more projects in the works. They will be a ways off as they are still in the inception stage, but know I’m researching and reading a lot these days (I kid you not- I read 20 books in June alone), and I’m excited about them and can’t WAIT to share them with you all!

A friend asked me recently if I get tired of people asking if/when my next book is coming out, and the honest truth is: I feel so honored when anyone asks that. I appreciate people taking an interest in what I’m working on and showing interest in there being a next book. It’s the reason I get to be a writer and I’m just beyond grateful for it. So thanks- and stay tuned! A book is coming your way very soon!

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Does the Kingdom of God belong to this world?

Happy Moltmann Monday! Last night at Journey we were talking about creation care and it made me think of this passage from Jesus Christ for Today’s World. Moltmann uses some questions about the kingdom to clarify his theological positions. Here’s his second clarifying question, and his response:

Does the Kingdom of God belong to this world, like an earthly kingdom, or is it a heavenly kingdom in the next?

The people who would like to see it as belonging to the next world always point to Jesus’ saying that ‘my kingdom is not of this world’ (John 18:36). But in so doing they are overlooking the fact that this is a statement about the origin of the kingdom, not its place…When Jesus said these words the kingdom of God in person was standing in front of Rome’s imperial governor, Pontius Pilate. If it is the kingdom of the Creator God, then it embraces the whole of creation, heaven and earth, the invisible side of the world and the visible side, too…

In the Lord’s Prayer we pray for the coming of the kingdom ‘on earth as it is in heaven’, meaning by heaven the side of creation which already corresponds wholly to God, and by earth the side of creation which is still in dispute…

So there is no salvation without the earth.  God’s kingdom is as earthly as Jesus himself was…

Two things I love about this: Moltmann so succinctly described how we confuse origin and place. (We also confuse metaphor with literalism but don’t even get me started on that…) And also, he pretty cleanly described what we mean by “on earth as it is in heaven.” There, we confuse location (a contrast between the place of heaven and the place of earth) with a state of being (whole or broken). It’s because this prayer is not about place that we can say we see the kingdom of heaven among us. We don’t mean we accidentally slipped into some other dimension of reality, apart from this one. We mean that we see something whole in the midst of other broken things.

The kingdom of God is among us, and every once in a while we see it- it’s wholeness.

 

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