Monday, November 21, 2011

Do You Speak Kingdomese?

At the end of Mathew 26, Peter disowns Jesus completely with a string of curses that would have made a sailor bow in awe. Peter was in a fix and wanted to hide the fact that he was one of Jesus’ disciples. Of course it was a lame idea since his homeland was written all over him, in his clothes, mannerism, and especially his accent. Galileans' heavy accent resulted in a distinct way of pronouncing (or mispronouncing) common Jewish words. Their speech was seen as definitely low brow. In spite of his protests, everyone standing around the campfire knew he was Galilean. Galileans were seen as tool belt jockeys – uncouth, unlearned, and good for blue collar work and/or ultimate fighting. In fact there were no teaching synagogues in Galilee and the learned rabbis from Jerusalem made guest appearances only rarely. That’s one reason the intellectuals from Jerusalem were so bewildered with Jesus’ authority. It would be like Rocky Balboa stumping Richard Dawkins from Oxford in a debate over the existence of God. “Where’d you learn this stuff?” they kept asking Jesus, “to what school of thought do you belong?” Jesus kept saying, “I learned this stuff from my Dad.” which was not a very satisfactory answer.

As I was reflecting on this passage, it occurred to me that even though we who follow Jesus claim that we are not from the Kingdom of the World but instead, we are of the Kingdom of God on earth, it’s really easy to hide our faith from folks outside the church – in fact we have to manufacture circumstances under which to surprise them with the news flash that we are actually people of Jesus. Would it be fair to say that Peter was more obviously Galilean, than we are Christian? Wouldn’t it be cool if followers of Jesus had a clearly distinguishable “accent” that made the fact of our choice to be such followers a dead giveaway?

When I was a teenager we were challenged to carry our Bible on the top of our books. The adults were challenged to attend worship every Sunday so our neighbors would see us backing out of our driveways and thus witness our commitment with their own eyes. The Bible thing never worked out for me – maybe I needed a bigger Bible – maybe a Jerry Falwell Drive-thru Bible would have done the trick. Also the car we backed out of the driveway every Sunday morning was a 1953 Plymouth Sedan – not a real attention grabber. A cooler car like a white 58 Chevy impala with four on the floor and tan tuck and roll leather seats would have made people more likely to want to be Christians.

Even as a young man I saw how shallow a “witness” such behavior actually was. I wanted to say, “Really?” “Do you really think that seeing me carrying a Bible or seeing a neighbor back out of the driveway the same time every Sunday morning, is a compelling case for our faith? Will people see these surface behaviors and cry out, “Woe! Woe! We’re slime sucking sinners from Hell, we need and want to be saved…Please Someone help us!”?

As sincere as these believers were, they never really had the will to break with the culture, join God in God’s business, and take Kingdom values and paradigms as their own. And because of that Christians became just another part of the culture. We spoke with the same “accent” as everyone else.

This cultural buy-in wasn’t so in the practice of most Christians prior to president Truman’s signing of the “Employment Act of 1946.” which made “propensity to consume[i] Federal policy. So the church joined the consumerist movement out of patriotism, countering its historical message of asceticism and moderation. Indeed, the whole country seemed to drink the Kool-Aid of materialism. Larry Rasmussen asks some pointed questions aimed at the outcome of this change within the church.

" Has "getting and spending"—consumerism—so laid waste our powers, sent our hearts packing, and alienated our souls that we no longer belong to nature and see ourselves in it? Has the commodification of all things so deadened the living world, so leeched away the sacred, that even plaintive winds and open seas don't wash over our spirit and move it to mystery and wonder? Are we this bereft, this "out of tune," this unmoved?"[ii] It seems that we were unmoved by much except the frenzied race to realize our American Dream.

“ Global consumer classes produced and consumed as many goods and services in the mere half- Century from 1950-2000 as throughout the entire period of history prior to that date.[iii]

Most Christians lost their accent which reflected life in the Kingdom, and its values and priorities. Many Christians lost the intimate connection with the each other and nature and these vital connections became just tools to use as they wished – eventually they seemed blind to the environment and, even worse, became the earth’s enemy. Recently, care of the earth is making a comeback among Christian politics, but seldom has it become an integral part of Christian spirituality. Our Native American friends have a lot to teach us about loving the earth as a major step in loving its creator.

Does our “accent” clearly show that we are people of another Kingdom? Does our accent remain prominent in our conversations with or about our Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, and/or transgendered friends, or other minorities? Do we speak clearly with our Kingdom accent when we deal with with the poor, the oppressed, the diseased, and the lonely? Does our accent smack of inclusiveness as we encounter folks of other faiths or rituals?

The church could be a powerful force in turning this horse around (OK, I don’t really know what horse this saying talks about or why it is going in one direction or the other but I’m on board for turning it around.) and begin to use our common voice to help our country see how healing it is to value things, people, and the earth for who they are, not as fodder for our voracious appetite for more and more.

What if Christians across our nation could speak with one accent about the values of the Kingdom and love for each other, God, and the created order? Our country is lacking in Spiritual leadership because the church is so divided. What if we laid down our political swords and simply gave witness to Jesus’ teaching and the presence of God’s Spirit in everyone? After all, Regardless of what the New Apostolic Revolution would have us believe, we are not called to take over the government, we are called to simply obey Jesus’ way of peace and invited to adopt God’s world view?

Imagine that we are in the circle around the fire with Peter and others and we are spotted as followers of Jesus. “Saaaaay, aren’t you one of this criminal Jesus’ followers?” “Oh no!” we reply, “We never knew him!” After a tense moment the accusers say, “Yeah, OK. We can buy that, but why do you carry a Bible there on top of your books?”

[i] Brink Iindsey, The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America's Politics and Culture (Collins/HarperCollins Publishers, 2007)

[ii] Rasmussen, Larry ,” God Honoring Asceticism and Consumption”, CrossCurrents - The Journal of Addiction and Mental Health, January 1, 2008.

[iii] Alan T. Durning, How Much Is Enough? (London: Earthscan, 1992),

Friday, January 07, 2011

Do You Like Lifesavers?

“Do you like Lifesavers?” He asked me. “Thanks, but no thanks”, was my reply.

Floyd, (not his real name) was leaving the hospital where he had been my roommate for a few days and was going home. Trouble is that he was leaving with four big tumors in his liver, a failing immune system, and many more problems.

Floyd stood there awkwardly, dressed in flannel shirt with cut out sleeves, sweats that showed he was familiar with car repair - truly a “man’s man”, very reluctant to show emotion yet filled with fear and showing an obvious desire to somehow “connect”. I know the signs in People who are desperate for a sense that God exists and that God loves them despite their rough and obnoxious exterior and/or, ( in Floyd’s mind at least) a huge pile of sins.

My encouragement to him had been to simply get himself in God’s presence and pray the prayer of the father in Mark 9: Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!” “Your part is just to get there, God will do the rest.” Recognizing that God was already in his heart and that his lifestyle had not fully separated him from God, was a great relief to Floyd.

“Do you like Lifesavers?” He asked me. “Thanks, but no thanks.”

How badly I wish I would have just said, “Floyd, I love Lifesavers,” and received his gift with grace. I was too distracted to notice…I never ask, “What would motivate a man like Floyd to give a near-stranger a somewhat worn out pack of Lifesavers?”

I believe whatever motivated Floyd was far more profound than a few words of encouragement I spent on him. I believe absolutely that God, who knows our hearts and minds had created an “opening” to this man’s soul through which he was reaching out to almost anyone who could help him find a connection to the Divine. He would have been proud to have given me the lifesavers but even more proud to feel he was worth my attention.

“Do you like Lifesavers?” He asked me. “Thanks, but no thanks.”

I also believe that it would have been pure arrogance to have kicked myself and felt guilty for neglecting to “hear” Floyd’s heart, as though everything depended upon me. God offers us opportunities, we probably miss a high percentage of them. For me, the sadness that accompanies the realization that we missed such a gift from God (…”blessed are those who mourn”) is sufficient to motivate greater vigilance.

Often others don’t see the pain behind our smiles when we show up at church feeling brokenhearted, or defeated, or sinful. It’s painful for us and sometimes hard to believe we are loved. At other times we gather together in worship with deep pain from a new divorce, or a financial disaster that sinks us from “well off” to bankrupt. We need each other to be ready to watch and listen for the nuances that would key them into our pain and brokenness. We need to pay attention to each other and try to discern the hidden message embedded in small gifts: kindness, or a smile, an extra firm handshake, or a pack of Lifesavers.

“Do you like Lifesavers?” He asked me. “Thanks, but no thanks.”