The UNkingdom of God : Embracing the Subversive Power of Repentance – Book Review

What really makes a book a good book? For me, like a work of art, a good book is precisely “good” because of its ability to facilitate an encounter with truth and beauty. A good work of art invites us to experience something greater than our current orientation to the world and transforms us on the other end of the encounter. This is kind of how I feel about Mark Van Steenwyk's latest book, The Un-Kingdom of God: Embracing the Subversive Power of Repentance. Like a work of art, this book is an invitation to explore the other end of an encounter with Mark's imagination and experience about who God is and what it means to follow in the ways of Jesus.

Mark writes from a refreshing posture of vulnerability regarding his own 'scripting' in the Christian faith. It's refreshing because his posture is not a possessive one, in that he claims no special knowledge or to have all the answers to the problems; but one that is aware of his own captivity to the Empire that God longs to liberate people from. He carries us through the chapters in humility with a desire to constantly discern the direction the Holy Spirit reveals to his community.

His premise in the book is that much of Western Christianity is married to the imperial trappings of Empire and that ongoing repentance – and relinquishment of said imperialism – should be the paradigm through which the church can experience the Kingdom. What are these Empirical trappings? The trappings of empire are difficult to see and when Mark poetically pulls the sheets back on us we are left exposed and clearly complicit in the colonialism, racism, patriarchy, and economic power systems that define privilege within the empire; a privelage the church has comfortably enjoyed for milenia. Mark helps us see in this regard that every one of us partakes in systems of injustice even as we partake in the bread and cup at Jesus' table.

Mark helps us see our shortcomings and opportunities in several important ways. Three stand out to me:

Repentance over Privilage: In the west we somehow feel we have the template on what it means to be Christians, as if the goal is to turn disciples into well behaved middle class Americans. Our Privilage has caused us to tell national myths that are quite oppressive to the indiginous people whose land we inhabit, as if our enlightened standard is the goal. He says:

The engine of Western imperialism is the quasi-Christian set of national myths that shape us into the sort of people who believe that we, uniquely, embody the good life and should spread that life to the rest of the world. The American dream is our gospel.”

Our Christian memory is tied to the empire and this empire partook and partakes in injustice to offer us the freedoms we feel make us exceptional today. In a prophetic way, Mark suggests that we shed such privilage and repent of our work in sustaining these myths and the ongoing injustices they enable. In this sense there is no genuine Christian witness or restorative justice outside of repentance, just ongoing oppression.

Compassion over charity: So we are exceptional at justice because we give a lot of money as westerners to good causes? Before reading this book I had no idea how charitable generosity can actually perpetuate injustice, even with sincere intentions. Mark deconstructs charity and offers fair criticism because rarely does charity redefine the social fabric of our societies justly – the business Jesus was about. In fact charity often maintains the divisions between rich, poor, black, white, etc… And gives us a safe place from privilege to give with little real cost. The gospels are riddled with exchanges where Jesus was critical of the status quo for excluding others. Compassion on the other hand requires a relationship of empathy on even ground. It is a radical identification with the other, a suffering with, that is mediated via a posture of repentance and rooted in hospitality. Hospitality is the primary vehicle for compassion and it is evident in the many stories Mark tells. His authority in my mind stems from the extent to which his community has oriented their lives around these principals.

Anarchy over Oppression: Mark is an Christian Anarchist and that should not scare you, although it will scare many who have a shallow understanding of it. Anarchism is simply the desire to participate in voluntary, non-coercive, combinations (or relationships) in society. It is the idea that a group of people can autonomously organize according to the community's best interest. As a Christian, Mark sees Jesus as the organizing centre of life together. The community gathers and decides via concensus what it is that the Spirit of Jesus is revealing. The Spirit also helps the community name oppression as Jesus did in his time. To Mark:

“Good anarchists are namers of all forms of oppression, seeking to understand the way oppressions reinforce each other in enslaving creation and seeing, in contrast, a way of liberation and life for all of creation.”

This is an interesting posture against the oppressiveness of our society as it places no one person or position over any other. In addition, Christian Anarchism names oppression and our complicity in it, while creating an environment where equality and mutual love can occur. This idea resonates more with how Jesus and the early church organized before the eventual marriage of church to the Roman Empire. Sadly, many ecclesial structures today reflect moreso the pattern of empire than the anarchistic organizing principle evident in the gospels.

To conclude, Mark is a tremendous cultural exegete that strives for “eyes to see” and is relentless in discovering ways to embody what the Spirit reveals. Reading this book is uncomfortable and inviting at the same time, like a good work of art. This book has challenged my own assumptions and understanding and begun to help me shake free from the lull the empire has on me at times. I'm encouraged and challenged. To many who are marginalized and have felt the boot of empire on their chest, this book is very hopeful. To the powers (including ecclesial ones) that are modelled in the way of empire and privilege this book will be hard to endure.

The Kingdom and Interruption

I think it's fair to say that in our culture of hurry, technology, and multi-sensory stimulation on a constant basis, we glide through life locked in our own world of concern and agenda. We wear our headphones, while texting on our cell phones. We spend copious amounts of time tending to our carefully crafted identities on social sites. We rush to make our multitude of commitments that are only possible as a result of our mobility. We are hemmed into our agendas with few margins for spontaneity or a shift in plans. As a result we have been carefully and well trained to ignore anything outside of the scope of our own agendas. We miss the broken ones hungry on the street because we're too busy. We fail to see injustice unfold before us in subtle ways. We are uncomfortable when someone doesn't respond with “I'm fine.” to our “How are you?” We are self centred.

In many ways, we followers of Jesus have managed to structure our faith into the pattern above. We've attempted to follow a very radical, spontaneous and responsive-to-the-Spirit Jesus in a way that is clean, neat and free of surprises. Outside of the occasional “internal” insight about self betterment or “feelings” of warmth about our idea of security in the world to come, we are largely neutered in our ability to follow Jesus appropriately. This frustrates me because it makes no sense considering we follow a God that is free and uncontrollable. The pattern of control in which we fashion our faith does not mesh with the pattern of God.

A very unique aspect about Jesus' ministry is his willingness to be interrupted by the Holy Spirit. There are constant examples of encounters that were spontaneous and interruptive to his Journey. The gospel of Mark is riddled with interruptive-type ministry beginning in the first chapter. Jesus had an eye on how the hearts of those around him were being stirred in curiosity or need. He responded in distinct action that blended into his agenda of demonstrating who God is and what God was doing on the road to his ultimate example on the cross. This is largely because Jesus' entire purpose and being is summed up in participating in the mission of God to reconcile the world. I'm suggesting that our crafted and controlled life above lies in stark contradiction to the pattern of Jesus' life, yet we try to make it work… uninterrupted by anything new or surprising from God. In a unique way, the interruptions are the ministry, yet we go out of our way to avoid them.

At the centre of this issue lies two problems. The first is an issue of purpose and obedience (or discipleship). The second is an issue of vision as it relates to our inability to see and understand how we are being pulled into ways of disengagement with God's Kingdom action. We are scripted into ways of self-centredness and self-focus and this leads to the development of both issues above. Our discipleship is private and tends to focus on the self, while our blindness to how we are scripted leads to our miasma. It is a catch twenty-two and part of the solution is a radical shake up of how fragile our self constructed world really is. We need to be jolted out of the pathology of private faith and startled away from the script of our empire that lulls us into our own uninterruptible worlds.

In times long ago, it was God that acted decisively to jolt and startle his people by allowing their enemies to carry them off into Babylonian exile. This made them reorient their lives around God and come to terms with their need for Him. Hopefully we can wake ourselves up on our own rather than suffer the alternative of being led into a new type of Babylon as slaves. Or maybe we're already there?

Kingdom Discernment, Discipleship, & Art – Part 2

Brokenness

The photo above is my attempt at expressing how I’ve seen God at work this past week. I think many people feel like they are a crooked broken line in a world of straight lines. While the world shuns brokenness and praises put-togetherness, God is found in the cracks and frailty where we would least expect him to be. This has been the theme for me is last week based on my experiences.

Picking up from part one of this adventure, last night we continued on our journey of creativity as a mission group. This week’s exercise was about answering the question of “Where have you seen God at work this week?” In my opinion, I have seen people (myself included) struggle to easily answer this question. It can cause anxiety and often makes us painfully aware of our inability to pay attention to the divine in the daily. We try hard to align our beliefs and actions with a theology that God is always present, but somehow the out working of this is more complex to realize than we would like. The point of growing as artists in the kingdom is to ultimately be able to express our journeys in provocative and inspiring ways.

Rather than just trying to answer this question, the creative exercise was to answer it with a photograph (the photo above is my attempt). We were prepared with some instructions in advance to guide the process. I also recognized that photography might be intimidating for some so I broadened the scope to include two other options related to the poetry exercise we did last week, or a “show and tell” about some sort of art or craft made in the past. Here is the exercise and instructions.

Rule #1: This should be fun and relaxed without pressure of any kind. This is not a photo critique.

  • Have your camera or cell phone nearby
  • Be in a time of prayer and recognize God’s presence in you and in the moment
  • Realize that it is a sacred moment that you are experiencing
  • Consider your feelings, where you are, colours, textures, shapes, and what God might be saying to you. Consider what’s unfolding around you (people, things, events, etc…).
  • Your photo can be an expression of God’s beauty or something that makes him sad. Identify with the feelings of God’s heart. Does your heart rejoice or break with His?
  • Make your photo from a place of response to God’s love for you and His love for the world. important: does it connect with what we have journeyed through as a church this week? (identity, seeing with new glasses, etc…)

Option 2:

  1. Revisit your four line poem from last week and share with us the experience of reflecting on your life without God and the contrast to the scripture we read (Isaiah 65:17-25) here is the link to the verses. What is happening in you through this?
  2. Bring something to the group that you created yourself (a craft, knitting, painting, etc…) and share what it means to you and what it was like making it.

As everyone shared about their various experiences, it was interesting to see how vividly God spoke to them through this. We also agreed as a group that having an artistic impulse connected to the discovery of God in our lives made it easier to answer the question of where we see him at work. There was less anxiety and more meaningful engagement because of the artistic element. It’s becomming clear that there is great value to expanding our experience of God from just the cerebral to include the artistic.

Part of our night together also included discussing ways we could discover and participate in Kingdom life in our neighbourhood. Fundamentally, I believe answering this question comes from a process of listening to who God is and Where he is working in our community, while strongly resisting the urge to speak of how up front. Because of our existing friendships and involvement with the local school, themes of what matters to God were already self evident. We identified with a sense of disconnectedness that already exists, the epidemic of Latchkey children in our city, and poverty. This is already clear to most of us. But we want to learn more about the people, ourselves as part of this greater broken community, growing friendships, and most importantly discover the constant newness of the Kingdom in our midst. We want to move toward the hope and future of God in our community.

We decided as a group that we would like to facilitate an environment where we could connect with the community and enter an active discernment process to discover God further. We are planning to use a large back room in our building to host a games night with a number of the kids from the local school and their parents. The idea is to create connection while we actively look for God to reveal his kingdom among us. As God reveals himself through this, we would love the opportunity to include the community in the journey of instigating the great prayer of “…on earth as it is in heaven.”

I was pleased that our desire to be more artistic and creative contributed (and will continue to contribute) to our processing of God among us and our sending by him.

 

Kingdom Discernment and Art

I think there is much that needs to be explored about the place of art in kingdom discernment and mission. If we maintain the theological conviction that the church exists for the world, then it makes sense that the church is led by the Spirit into Civic discourse as partners on the journey. This is the realm where I believe the artist can contribute meaningfully. I'm in discovery mode with these ideas and have rested initially on the following questions to guide me further.

  1. Can artists in the church participate in civic conversations in a way that identifies the work of God (the who) in a specific locality (the where)?
  2. Is there potential for the theologically formed creative artist to move us away from an agenda of church growth and strategy as is too often is the case with the church on mission (getting away from 'how')?
  3. Is theologically inspired art a way to dialogue and partner with communities to realize new civic possibilities and transformation (…on earth as it is in heaven)?

My questions clearly revolve around the nature of the civic partnership and conversation. Is it always an academic conversation? Is it a practical needs-oriented conversation? Is it a challenge in the spirit of the prophetic? I think it can be all of the above and I think art is a valid medium for dialogue.

If we think about art for a moment, it can generally be defined as the ability to say something creatively. Creative expression is important within culture because art, at is core, evokes reaction and proposes a vision for something. Art is emotional and subversive through its display. Art serves to build culture, nurture vision, and transform perspective.

The artist is important in this equation because the artist is first a listener and then an interpreter. When the task of listening is complete, the interpretation of the experience begins for the artist. Then the artist can express their voice through artistic means. The result can lead to the advance of culture, a challenge to the status quo, an alternative vision for society, and many more possibilities. After all, isn't listening the enabler/first step of discernment? And isn't discernment the prerequisite to discovering the work of God in our neighbourhoods, both where He is already working and where the church can partner? I think so, and as such, artists deserve a bigger voice at the table. I would argue that artists are discerners and can should lead this civic conversation at times.

The place of Art in the church has not been neglected per se throughout her history, but in evangelicalism, I think it is not underscored in a way that it should be. Often the impulse toward the practical and instrumental tends to squeeze the mystery of the artistic to the margins of the church's life together. In other words, it's not taken as seriously as it should be because the artistic process is too open ended and unpredictable, making the traditional approach of strategy evangelism (that is based on certainties) anxious.

Another note to mention on the topic is leadership. All artists are leaders in their own right. They lead because they say something unique as a result of a transformative process they undergo. Unfortunately not all people see themselves as artists, or at least creative. This is tragic because if all God's people understood themselves as artists, things could be different. What if every follower of Jesus felt like they had a voice inspired by God in them and actually spoke with that voice through image, song, paint, poem, story, creative conversation, etc? This would be a form of leadership through creative expression that could awaken many possibilities for Kingdom discernment and life.

Every person has the ability (via divine imaging by their creator) to express themselves artistically. They can say something with conviction as a result of being stirred by the Spirit of God. Unfortunately most rely on a consumeristic posture in their faith that surrenders their potential to ordained leaders as the inspired ones feeding consumers spiritual information. The consumer/believer in this situation is devoid of imagination, discernment, artistic impulse, and (I would say) life potential. In many ways we have reduced the experience of God to a cerebral process devoid of creative expression. This, I think, is tragic as it resists the theology of the Missio Dei; the church's identity as co-creators with God in his project for creation through the Spirit's sending. This understanding demands that – at least in a loose sense, but yet a very real sense – all followers are creative artists.

It's becoming clear to me that theological formation and discipleship should be less averse to embracing the creative potential of people; or, fostering the artist in every disciple. Even in the life of Jesus we see a vivid imagination in his stories about the Kingdom. In this way Jesus was an artist. We can also interpret the creative demonstration of his signs and miracles as artistic expression of God's rule. In vivid, subversive and powerful ways (all the things art can be), Jesus painted a reality picture for us that not only pointed to him as creator come in the flesh (the 'who'), but also to God's Kingdom arriving in power locally to make things new (the where). His promise that the church will be capable of even greater things (John 14:12) makes me wonder at the possibilities while at the same time challenging my faith.

Our church has mission groups that are intentional about doing the above. We are trying to discern a “mission focus” for our group. My imagination is running wild with the possibilities of engaging though art. I'd love to facilitate a conversation in our group that could help us say something together about God's kingdom showing up in our neighbourhood. Artistically.

More to come on the journey as it unfolds…..

What is Discipleship?

A friend and thoughtful blogger, Bill Kinnon, got my mind stirring yesterday with his latest: Discipleship is Conspiracy post. Bill suggests that that there is an intimacy lost in the conventional pedagogy of western discipleship. I agree. The classroom approach does not compare to the down-to-earth discipleship reflected in the gospels. To say discipleship is conspiracy suggests so much more than the transference of religious information.

Understanding discipleship against such strong language of conspiracy could be helped by introducing language of “empire”. Empire is ultimately the principalities and powers at work in the world to exert its will in the form of politics (Eph 6:12). The empire is in rebellion toward God because of sin. The empire exploits, comodifies, and dehumanizes people with its lust for power, domination, and control. The empire conspires to perpetuate its agenda by worshipping the false gods of money, redemptive violence and power.

Against the backdrop of empire, I really like the language of conspiracy that Bill introduces for a number of reasons.

  1. Discipleship is ultimately participation in God's project for creation. This project was inaugurated in Jesus and carried out in a subversive and transformative manner within the empire and for the sake of the world. Therefore, an undermining took place and we can say that God's undermining of the “powers that be” and defeat of evil constitutes a conspiracy.
  2. Bill traces the etymology of conspiracy to the act of breathing together. There is an intimate connectivity (a breathing together) that we witness in the life of Jesus with his disciples. There is a story playing out within the larger story of the empire to non violently resist the practice of domination and oppression that ultimately support the empire. Therefore; this type of breathing together constitutes a conspiracy to subvert the empire.
  3. Discipleship is conspiracy because of the invasiveness of the word into the world through the incarnation. In other words, God took the world by surprise. Only by this incarnate invasiveness can the breathing together with humanity occur. Disciples are co-conspirators with God. It is ultimately a demonstration, rather than religious education or ideology alone.
  4. Conspiracy has an element of surprise. As co-conspirators, disciples work their way through the empire as the Holy Spirit leads (Matt 13: 31-32). Discipleship is surprising because of its way of non-violent resistance. This type of resistance disarms exploitation by exposing sin and responding in love (Matt 5:41, Luke 6:29). It leaves the aggressor disarmed while demonstrating a new way of being in response to aggression.

I want to take discipleship further as well and suggest that it is also an act of civil disobedience. In Baptism, for example, the disciple declares a “YES” to the Kingdom and a resounding “No” to the will and values of the empire that are in opposition to God. Through baptism, we become dissobedient toward the empire for we declare a new order that is led by a new King as supreme. If the empire dehumanizes, the Kingdom through discipleship is about dignifying and making fully human those that are broken; restoring God's order of all things. This is a public act. Through baptism one renounces allegiance to the empire and is born into a new life of breathing together with God and his people for this purpose. Is is the ultimate conspiracy and is dangerous when taken seriously.

The challenge with Western discipleship (in addition to what Bill mentions) is a form of blindness to the conspiracy and how it ought to play out against the empire. To take it further, allegiances are mixed and following Jesus has been co opted into a form of private religion that is palpable by the empire. It poses no significant threat. The empire goes as far as bestowing benefits upon the disciples of this coopted religion. The church and the empire are breathing together in conspiracy.

As much as true discipleship is a conspiracy, there is a conspiracy that works in the opposite direction that has far too many adherents to pose any significant threat to the empire. Caesar loves this arrangement.

 

 

Life giving conversations….

The last week has offered me the opportunity to have some very life giving conversations with special people. Each one has been a learning experience and a discovery of what God is doing in me lately. I contrast these conversations against the feeling of this image that I made last weekend while on a photo shoot. As this image speaks to the coldness and isolation of winter, the conversations I’ve had have nudged me toward the warm hope of spring and renewal in my life….and I think that’s a good thing.

Conversation #1:

A good friend met me for lunch and within three sentences we dove into a candid discussion about theology and integrating faith with life. I’ve looked forward to chatting with my PHD friend for some time as I respect his wisdom and knowledge. I threw out a theological statement I’ve been chewing on for a while:

“To claim the salvific benefits of the gospel without living into the social and political implications of God becoming King in Jesus is to, in fact, never have known him.” 

This launched us into a dialogue about left and right agendas and the shortfalls with each of them as that is how such a statement tends to polarize the discussion. Does it have to be a social gospel, or conservative one largely uninvolved in the social ills of our day outside the political efforts of legislation? This encouraged us to consider appropriate demonstration of the Kingdom consistent with the story of God in history and not just political engagement bound by a certain process or context stripped of the story of Israel.

My angst in all of this comes from the incessantly private nature of Christian faith and the incredible silence on social issues of systemic injustice. This came to a head for me recently in light of the silence and lack of engagement by much of the church with the Occupy Wall Street movement. I wasn’t sold on any notion of complete agreement with the OWS movement, but at least some commentary and consideration about the validity of the movement’s general protest against the disproportion of wealth and oligarchy that runs the West. My friend (Scott is his name) had some wise encouragement about a missional/incarnational posture that would in once sense protect from the polarizing liberal/conservative lines and offer a third way to live into the gospel that opens the door to transformation from within the believing community as well as without. What is it? It’s quite simple. Solidarity in the margins that goes beyond telling good news and embraces kingdom enactment and prophetic critique as a mode of being in the civil sphere. A posture of receptivity to the Spirit and a relinquishment of control seem like the appropriate prerequisite here within the context of discipleship.

This post is getting too long….conversation #2 will be another entry.

Toward Hope is back

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It’s been some time, years, actually, since I have blogged and as a result of a need to write again, I am kick starting the Toward Hope blog. I purchased the domain name and am geared up on the wordpress platform. My goal this time around is to use this blog as a place to reflect theologically on life. I am convinced that the hope of Jesus appears in all situations and circumstances and if I can capture a glimmer of it here, it’s bound to serve as a place of learning and hopefully transformation.

My first thoughts revolve around how challenging it was for me to read NT Wright’s Simply Jesus this last week. It was not hard in respects to being a purely academic book, it’s actually quite accessible. The challenge for me is in light of how Wright illuminated the agenda and purpose of Jesus’ ministry. You’d think it’s pretty clear, but actually, there is more confusion about who Jesus was and why he did what he did than any other person in history. He positions Jesus’ ministry as primarily being focused on proclaiming in powerful speech-action that God is becoming King. In Him and through Him. What bothered me was when I started thinking about the implications this has on me and all who profess to follow.

Jesus came to instigate God’s Kingdom and offers in his life the visible manifestation of its economy as expressed in the sermon on the mount. The implications run thick not only through the conventional ideas about personal transformation and growth, but in how we understand and treat our neighbours (I mean it in a global sense) and how the church aligns itself as an agent of truth and reconciliation in public life.

on to my next book….Subverting Global Myths by Vinoth Ramachandra

Len on Vanier on community…

When we left the traditional church setting in the fall of 2000, one of our complaints was that community only happened around task. In retrospect, it seems both true and natural. Community is a by product of something else, and when it is an end in itself it tends to implode. It becomes incestuous. Communities form naturally around shared purpose and shared task. The more clear and intentional the purpose, the stronger the community tends to be. The challenge, then, in forming communities is to help them to maintain an inward life even as they work at whatever purpose they are called toward, as they move to incarnate their purpose. Jean Vanier is right that,

“The more we become people of action and responsibility in our community, the more we must become people of contemplation. If we do not nurture our deep emotional life in prayer hidden in God, if we do not spend time in silence and if we do not know how to take time from the presence of our brothers and sisters, we risk becoming embittered. It is only to the extent that we nurture our own hearts that we can keep interior freedom. People who are hyperactive, fleeing from their deep selves and their wound, become tyrannical and their exercise of responsibility only creates conflict.”
Community and Growth

I am experiencing the loss of strength of vision with age, and I visited the optometrist yesterday for an updated prescription. Common enough. But I was struck that as time passes and my physical vision grows weaker, my inner vision grows more clear. It becomes both easier and more natural to look “not at the things which are seen, but the things which are unseen.” At times it feels a little gnostic.. but then I recall that phrase from Paul, and I realize that what may sometimes appear dualistic is really the embodiment of a paradox.
HT Len

Vision as Incremental…

I have been far too busy to blog lately because life is taking its toll on me from all angles. One thing I have tried to keep up is meeting for lunches downtown with friends who church plant and are involved in the missional conversation. This has been a source of life for me in the absence of time to blog.

One topic we have bantered about lately is that of vision. There is much talk about vision in churches and so much of it is good and some needs to be questioned. What I perhaps question most is the type of vision that is based more on models of commerce. Many critique this as it often leads down roads of church growth strategies that are concerned most about growing numerically through a repeatable and controllable process. But is biblical vision about that?

In conversation with my friend Anthony, he put me onto the idea of vision as vocation rather than a static constant. What I mean by static constant, is that if a church’s vision, for example, is to grow to 10000 people, the unswerving pursuit of that vision can often lead to a lack of openness to the spirit’s direction for a body as their life together unfolds. The desire may be a noble one that seeks the Kingdom, but it may not be the specific direction or goal for that church as discerned through the circumstance of their life and the Spirit’s presence. Vision as vocation, on the other hand is a buy-in into the macro promise of the covenant God to restore all things. Vocational vision can be understood as a communal resolve that we are a pilgrim people, traveling through time with the Spirit, as we implement and participate in the redemptive action of God to restore all things. What that looks like in a local context needs to be teased out and discovered through relationship to the Spirit in a posture of listening. It is not controllable, but is is discoverable. As we only have the creative visions of scripture that give language to this redemptive hope, it comes to be for us through a process of improvisation (thanks NT).

The above should lead us to consider that perhaps vision is an incremental endeavor. If we have a vocational vision that includes an openness and attentiveness to the Spirit from a macro perspective, then we can trust that direction will be reveled incrementally as we travel through time with God. What is more, the vision discovered will be an impulse by the Spirit that is intertwined with the communities wrestling match with God. Discovering God in the midst of our circumstances (faithful and unfaithful) as we walk through the good and bad consequences of our life together is the playground for discovering our next steps toward God in this life. What grounds this for me is Israel’s journey through the wilderness. There was only enough guidance for the next few steps of their life alongside their vocational vision/hope for the promised land. Are we willing to take the route they did? Perhaps not for us, but for God, this seems the preferred place he would have us. Strikingly, it is not a place of efficiency, strength, and pride, but a place of weakness, humility, and powerlessness where the only walking we do is with a limp.

This leads me to wonder if each church vision should not begin with a resounding "For now…" as they seek to discern each step along the journey.

What do you think?

Returning to God’s Ever-Present Love

“We often confuse unconditional love with unconditional approval. God loves us without conditions but does not approve of every human behavior. God doesn’t approve of betrayal, violence, hatred, suspicion, and all other expressions of evil, because they all contradict the love God wants to instill in the human heart. Evil is the absence of God’s love. Evil does not belong to God.

God’s unconditional love means that God continues to love us even when we say or think evil things. God continues to wait for us as a loving parent waits for the return of a lost child. It is important for us to hold on to the truth that God never gives up loving us even when God is saddened by what we do. That truth will help us to return to God’s ever-present love.”
~Henri Nouwen

Nouwen identifies what is perhaps the biggest point of confusion about God’s love; unconditional love and unconditional approval. Unconditional love is the hardest kind, because it begs us to offer a love that doesn’t always feel good. This love says hard things when they are called for. This love sees past relational comfort to the well being of the whole person. And what is more, this love demands the greatest measure of forgiveness between the beloved, because to go the distance with proper love is the most expensive option for all. But the rewards are great. From God’s perspective, we experience love to an unimaginable degree in the cross, and as Nouwen says above, this love will help us return to God. Form our perspective, when we follow God’s pattern, we extend this same love and participate in returning others to God. We can be sure that this is the economy of the new creation we hope in; an inheritance that won’t spoil or fade.

The Conversion of the Church

My blogging friend and gifted Dream Awakener JR Woodward points us this morning to a couple of quotes from Will Willimon and Hans Kung on what conversion should mean for the church.

Willimon: “A church which has no quarrel with Caesar’s definition of peace and justice, a church enabled by its culturally accommodated preachers to lessen the gap between the gospel and the status quo has no need to preach conversion. In such a church Theophilus will be told stories of people who overcome personal anxiety, who found security in conventional truth, who kept with their own kind and stayed safely home. No one needs religious conversion or cultural detoxification to be down to this church. But if the church hopes for more, for a new heaven and a new earth, for people who know the cost of discipleship and are willing to pay, then as Hans Küng says,

“We are to preach metanoia. We must entice people from the world to God. We are not to shut ourselves off from the world in a spirit of asceticism, but to live in the everyday world, inspired by the radical obedience that is demanded by the love of God. The church must be reformed again and again, converted again and again each day, in order that it may fulfill its tasks.”