Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Wedding Sermon on John 13:1-17

In reflection of that timeless and much sought after idea of Christian Service, the passage we just shared, John 13:1-17,  seems to give a very practical idea of charity, but the passage does not simply ask the question as to what service looks like or what it is. No, in truth, it actually seems to probe further… deeper. John 13 dares to do something much bolder on the way to defining this concept.  It actually inquires and suggests that there is a way to breech upon the very nature of God, and it is in that quest that one finds not only the definition of God’s Love but it’s very being in the person and sacrifice of Christ; in the actions of Christ as He actually stoops down to wash His disciples’ feet. So, as we traverse this passage today, I would like to see what this passage is saying in light of its background, content, and character, and then I would like to circle back around to what that means for the central message of the passage and how that relates to us as we read it today some two thousand years later and the significance as we witness the union of this Man and Wife today.
 So, to begin, there are a couple of things about the passage that we are reading that I think will help us understand where Jesus is coming from as he performs this act, and one of those things is the context of the story itself. You see, Jesus, in this story, is on his way to death. We are told that the disciples and Jesus have gathered to celebrate the pass over meal – a celebration of salvation that commemorates the time when God saved the Jews from utter destruction from the hand of their oppressors, the Egyptians.  Soon, Jesus will be led to be crucified, and the text tells us that He knows the hour for this is coming soon, and in the chapters to follow, the reader gets a long and detailed teaching on Jesus’ continuing work through the spirit and the nature of the new spiritual reality he is about to introduce.
            This is significant because many scholars believe that John, the author of this gospel (hence the title!), is trying to, both here and in the epistles that have his name ascribed to them, combat certain religious heresies that have cropped up in the Christian community at the time of his writing. You see, the lay reader tends to simply think that the account of the bible is meant to be taken as an account for account rendering of the life and times of Jesus. What many fail to realize is that someone had to compile these stories later and write them down, and this process was infinitely harder in the ancient world where one had to find the resources and time to do such a thing. That said, it is believed by many scholars that John is recounting his experience with Jesus decades later. In fact, it is probably sixty or seventy years later. So, it may be true that John, beyond simply trying to get the gospel message out to the world (which is no doubt one driving purpose for the composition of this gospel), John may actually be trying orient or re-orient his congregation and the churches that he is serving to the truth about Christ over and against these heresies.
            And, in the city of Ephesus at this time, John is trying to fight one of these heresies which would later become Gnosticism. Now, for our purposes, Gnosticism was essential a heresy that denied the humanity of Christ. This was so because, to the Gnostic, physical reality was evil and heavenly or spiritual reality was holy. So, some of the more famous proclamations were that Jesus was a real man who was possessed by the divine at the time of baptism who left his body at crucifixion since he could not experience suffering or that Jesus was something like an illusion and not really a physical being. This is one thing that I would like for us to keep in the background of our minds as we go through this passage.[1]
Also, don’t forget, this act of washing the disciples feet, of course, was the lowliest position possible in Jesus’ culture.  Washing feet, in first century Israel, would have been social suicide, but anyone familiar with the gospels knows that this type of risk was probably of little concern for this revolutionary teacher.  Christ chose, in this act, to become nothing to show the “full extent” of his love; he chose to reveal love as service. A lot of people, however, get hung up on the fact that Jesus humbled himself, and rightly so. It is one of the most magnificent and beautiful truths of our faith– the fact that God incarnate, deserving of every glory and every praise, could even be considered to have stooped down to serve someone in such a lowly manner. But, I would argue that, though beautiful this is, the fact that he is humbled is not the focal point of this story but more Christ’s CHOICE to humble himself and specifically the manner in which this becomes an example for his disciples and ultimately an example for the reader.
And the first place I would like for us to focus on, as we ruminate on this idea, is the portion that depicts Peter’s response to Jesus as he tries to wash his feet. Initially he rejects the idea that his master and Lord would humble himself enough to wash the feet of the disciples – surely Jesus is the one who deserves to be served, not the other way around. And yet, Jesus insists. I think it is funny that, as he relents, Peter’s actions are such hyperbole swinging from one extreme to the next – “oh no you will never wash my feet” to “well you might as well get the hose out then!!!”  I think, what is actually happening is that Peter is confused about what Jesus is doing. To illustrate, I would like to talk about one of the greatest cinematic gems of all time – “Analyze This” (or maybe it is “Analyze That”...there are two... I can’t remember). If you have never seen the film, the basic plot is that Robert De Niro’s character is a mafia Kingpin who is suffering from depression after leading a life of violence and crime. So, at the behest of his friends, he decides to see a therapist – the unwitting and unwilling character played by Billy Crystal. And, as you might imagine, many comedic antics ensue. But, there is a scene where Crystal’s character, obviously a Jew, is following DeNiro’s character into church for mass, and as they come to the basin of holy water, they both simultaneous dip their hands into the water. However, as DeNiro’s character makes the sign of the cross, Crystal’s character begins to wash his hands vigorously and I think even takes a finger to get behind his ears. 
The water meant different things to them. For DeNiro, it was that sign for him to remember his baptism, but for Crystal it was that water which you dipped into in order to make yourself ritually clean before you entered the synagogue and the presence of God’s word, and there were similar rituals that took place in Jesus’ time as well when one wanted to enter the temple area. And, I think something similar is going on in Peter’s mind, here. I think he has his sanctity in mind. I think, he thinks that Jesus is performing a ritual, and while we cannot fault him for wanting to participate fully in this, Jesus lets him know that this is not what he is trying to do.
In fact, as Jesus is addressing him in verse 8, before Peter asks him to wash his head and his hands, he says that if he doesn’t let him was his feet, then he has no PART with him. Now, “part” is the Greek word meros [meros] which in its most basic meaning means exactly that – a part of something. However, in context this word, especially as it is used in the Septuaigint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), is often used to refer to a part of an estate or an inheritence. [2]It makes me wonder whether, as soon as he heard this, Peter’s heart didn’t start racing or he didn’t get a lump in his throat from anxiety. I wonder if, when Jesus says this, he isn’t thinking that he is on the cusp of losing his stake in the eternal kingdom. I mean, he has invested years, at this point in the story, essentially campaigning for the fact that Jesus was the Messiah – the One the prophets had told about! The one who would bring unity and peace and dominance and salvation back to the Jewish people! Now, of course we know that Jesus’ specific purpose of being a sacrifice for sinners kind of flew in the face of Peter’s expectations (and truly the Jewish mindset at the time), but nevertheless, this is probably what is running through the mind of Peter as Jesus is performing this act.
All of this, however, leaves the question as to what Jesus was actually doing in this passage. Verse 1 tells us that he did this to “show the full extent of his love” and in verse 15 Jesus himself says that this is to be an example for the disciples, and presumably us as the Christian body, to follow. Does this mean that we are mandated to literally stoop down and wash each other’s feet? I don’t think so. I think one key think to note is how the text says that Jesus took off his robe before he did this and then explicitly makes note of him putting it back on when he is finished. Some scholars have tied this passage in with John 10:17-18 where Jesus says that the Father loves him because he freely lays down his life only to take it up again. You see, some scholars think that as Jesus lays down his garment he is actually, symbolically showing the reader that he is about to lay down his life. It is like those movie poster outside a theater – they always catch your eye, but they are meant to be signs to get you to the main event. The foot washing is the poster, and Jesus’ impending death and resurrection is the main event. [3]
Well, that is all well and good, and some of you might even be rolling your eyes a little right now because, if you have gone to church for any length of time, you probably feel that you have been through this lesson a thousand time – yes, yes. Jesus died on the cross to save us from sin. Awesome. Let’s all go have coffee and donuts in the foyer and get the heck outta here! BUT WAIT! Though one can see this symbolism in the text, this isn’t the central point of this passage! In fact, the point of this passage is US centric. It has to do with us. You see if Jesus is talking about his ultimate sacrifice on the cross as the example that he is setting for us, there is something much deeper and profound going on in this passage than simply another lesson on Christian charity or our service of each other. It does take these things up as a dimension of its message, but it takes them up in relation to our POSTURE within them.  The message, in that case, is transformed into something like that old hymn sings – “come and die!” Come and follow me even unto your death! Come and serve the church, the world, your enemies, even if it costs you your very life! This act is aided by the fact that the word for “example” in the Greek is the word upodeigma which some scholars note is associated, in the Septuagint and some of the contemporary Jewish writings, with someone giving an example of how to die, as in how to die honorably in something like battle or in reference to having been martyred honorably.[4]
So, what does this mean for us? Well, perhaps this is a little confusing, so let me give you an example through a personal story of mine. I am not sure if any of you know, but I lived in Juarez Mexico for two years doing a missions internship. This was one of the most profound experiences of my life. It shaped me in ways that I am still, a couple years later, trying to flesh out in my life and my spiritual walk. I mean, when I think back on the friendship I made and the great times I had there, I can’t help feel a certain sense of joy come over me.  There wasn’t a week that went by that I and my fellow interns weren’t at some church fiesta eating amazing Mexican food, or at hanging out at someone’s house in the community just...doing life. I worked in a soup kitchen, and I have countless stories of some of the guys, Gerardo, Francisco, Noe, clowning around or pouring their lives out to the people there. Or, there was sweet little Annabel, who was a master at making tortillas, she had come to Christ after escaping (literally with just the clothes on her back) the sex-slave industry. She had been duped by her first husband and his family, and they used her as a sex slave. We worked in a women’s shelter doing programs and things for moms who were escaping poverty and abusive relationships. That was one of the most amazing place to be sometimes because the kids were so joyful and curious and you could tell sometimes the moms just needed a break! And, so we were able to get the kids out of their hair and put on programs for them. I still remember little Pollo with these huge ears would say the craziest things sometimes! I mean, even with a language barrier ... kids are kids!
I say all that because, the truth is, Mexico was also one of the hardest times of my life. Almost, everyday I battled an urge to just LEAVE – get out of the chaos!  Sometimes, my spirit was just so broken by some of the things that I saw.  I mean, regularly, my team and I would see crazy things – gang beatings, corrupt policemen, someone once set a car on fire outside one of the churches I was working at (only by the grace of God did it start raining, because the flames were close enough to church that you could see it lipping up over the side of the roof!), our house was constantly robbed from or vandalized, I once saw a woman holding, I presume, her dead mother on the street after a hit a run. Extortion was a common occurrence. I once met a woman who was so poor that the only thing she had to feed her baby was instant coffee... this baby had been drinking only instant coffee for two days. My wife and I were carjacked, once. I mean, one of the men cocked a gun and held it to her head... life in Mexico wasn’t always easy. The majority of the time, I found myself struggling with a sense of defeat, with a sense of loss. That isn’t to say that God didn’t prove himself over and again, but more often than not I really had to battle a sense of hopelessness.
I can remember distinctly, one evening, after a particularly hard day, I was sitting outside my little barrio home on the porch, watching the sunset, and I could see in the distance one of the ministries that we worked with called Juventud con Vision “Youth with a Vision.” I could see the three crosses they displayed on the crest of their roof as the fading rays of the days’ last light slowly engulfed them. And, I began to go over this passage, John 13 and another passage in John 20, in my mind. In John 20, Jesus has already been crucified and buried, and there is a moment, in the book, when all seems lost for the disciples. It is at this point that the reader is introduced to a bit of a funny story. You see, John 20:3-9 (you don’t have to turn there, I will just relate to you what is happening) tells the story of Peter and the “Beloved Disciple,” who many think is actually John (the author of the Gospel) trying to offhandedly paint himself into the narrative, in a bit of a foot race to the tomb. Mary Magdalene had gone early in the morning to the tomb and had found it empty. She then immediate reported this to the disciples. So, in John 20:3, we see Peter and John racing to the tomb to see for themselves, and... John beats Peter there. Now, all my life I have heard this passage preached as a bit of a quip. It is almost an anecdote to show the rivalry that existed between these two apostles in the early church as if this was John’s way of taking a pot shot at Peter – “look at you Peter! You can’t even win a foot race!” But...I don’t think so. I don’t think that is what is happening in this passage.
There is a sense here, I think, that John is actually a little hesitant to enter the tomb. He is the BELOVED disciple! Would he not have the courage to go and be by his master’s side?! I think, he is the last person the reader would suspect to be hesitant to enter the tomb, and yet, the text is very clear that John did NOT go in to the tomb. But, here comes that little chubby, out-of-shape, fat boy Peter trudging behind him. At this point, the reader would suspect that it would be PETER who would be afraid to go into the tomb, because given the fact that Peter, in ALL the gospels, is portrayed as a person who is profoundly concerned and steeped in the Jewish thinking of his day, one would expect that, since they both know that Jewish law prohibits them from coming in contact or being in the presence of a dead body, Peter of all the characters would protest to entering the tomb because it breaks Jewish Law. Yet, lo and behold, it is PETER NOT JOHN who enters the tomb first! See, I don’t think that John is badmouthing Peter so much as showcasing the resolve it took for him to enter the tomb first, over and against his own inhibitions. It is Peter who is willing to follow his master even into the darkest of places.
And, as I am thinking on this and on John 13, on my porch, in Mexico (don’t forget that is where we started with this illustration), and the last rays of the sunset slowly slip past the hillside and the crosses atop that building, I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to be Peter at that moment. It is so obvious in chapter 13 that Peter is desperate to “get it right” to “play by the rules” that he misses completely the fact that Jesus is asking him to give of himself, not for his own glory or his own sanctification, but simply because it brings praise and honor to God. But, here in Chapter 20, I get the sense that, with all of that in the background, with all of that as a precedent, Peter has to choose. Will he be overcome by the religious impulses that drive him to an ingenuine faith, or...will he follow his master? Will his devotion to his pride in “being right” win out, or will he charge ahead to chase after the Lord that he loves. You see, the ultimate point of this passage is a call to service, yes, but more it is sign of God’s beckoning call for us to chase after him unabashedly through that service.
Now, I would hate for any of you to walk out of here thinking that this passage doesn’t promote Christian charity. That is not what I am saying at all.  But, the thing I think we need to remember – that is CRUCIAL to remember – about this passage is that that is not where our obligations end. Anyone can feed a hungry person to satisfy their own compulsive needs to feel prideful or accomplished or to pat themselves on the back, but Jesus, as we have seen, is showing us in this passage that the extent to which we serve and sacrifice ourselves ultimately and necessarily needs to emulate Him as he is dying, as he is crucified. This passage is profound because it speaks to our posture in service – that we do this FOR THE GLORY OF GOD and not our own petty self-interests. And, not only that, but Jesus’ example here calls us to follow him even into the darkest of places...even unto death.
Now, the good news is that most of us are not called to be martyrs every day, nor do I think this passage is telling us to go and flippantly get ourselves killed for the faith. No, in truth, though some are destined to be martyrs, and one might think that John’s audience was familiar with this threat, this passage speaks to our posture in serving. Why do we serve? Do we do it for the great feeling it gives us or because “we are supposed to”? NO! Romans 12 says it well when it calls us to be “living sacrifices” and that is what this passage, I think, is saying to us too! Every aspect of our very lives is meant to be lived for the glory of God; we serve each other because, by this, we serve God. And, the keen message here is that sometimes, in serving God by serving others, we may be called to necessarily lay our lives down.
With these thoughts in mind, I must take this opportunity to charge Man and Wife, to choose, and the choice is of each other – the choice is forever.  This day- these vows- mean nothing without that choice.  Man and Wife, Christ convicts us to love the world through service – let that begin in your own home as you wash each other’s feet.  Christ demands that we follow Him even in to the darkest places – let your love for each other be that discipline which would bear you on such a steady course. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God – let your marriage be that unfailing example which would proclaim such a message unto the world.
And since the savior has given us this example of His love, Man and Wife, serve each other, love each other from the will as well as the heart, and on that cold day when sun and warmth seem like fairy tales and joy farther than the reaches of the cosmos, choose love –choose each other!

Brown, Colin ed. “Meros (Meros),” New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology            
5.1. LaserD. CD-Rom. Michigan: Zondervan, 2005.
Howard-Brook, Wes. John’s Gospel and the Renewal of the Church. New York: Orbis, 1997.
Hughes, R. Kent. Behold the Man: Expository Studies in the Gospel of John 11-21. Illinois:
Victor, 1984.

[1] Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008), 46-56.
[2]Brown, Colin ed. “Meros (meros),” New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology 5.1. LaserD. CD-Rom. Michigan: Zondervan, 2005.

[3] Wes Howard-Brook, John’s Gospel and the Renewal of the Church (New York: Orbis, 1997), 45-50 .
[4] Wes Howard-Brook, Renewal, 45-50.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Short and Sweet: A Quick Thought on the Nature of the Resurrection

Well, let's say, for the sake of argument, that Christ never did rise, and That he was simply a man who, as protestant liberals might say, was simply a wise and moral teacher.Then the truth of the matter would be that the entirety of the faith would be in jeopardy of being nothing more than simply an ethical philosophy (that is, after what one could parse out of the mythical/religious context), and it in itself, ironically enough, would have an existential dilemma. Without the resurrection, without the supernatural impeding the natural in the manner that it is presented in the Christian schema, the faith has no validity as anything but an opinion on the life lived in mortality.

It wouldn't really matter if I, or anyone, accepted Christ's teachings as anything but a vain attempt at ethically ordering one's life. Without the resurrection, there is no telos in the existential system, there is no reason why one should do anything for the sake of morals or ethics or even human progress. Without the resurrection, there is no point to anything, and we should all continue our lives in the base attempt at satisfying our animal craving for orgies, libation, and gluttonous eating. And, I know that a liberal theologian would want to say that something like Humanism or the human's ability to transform and take charge of their own ethical leanings is the next evolutionary step on our process toward whatever teleological end they might dream up, but the truth is, if there is no resurrection, and the God that reigns is the God of the deist, then...well, truthfully... there is no progress, and if God doesn't care, then why should I? why should you?

But, if the resurrection is real, if it is something that occurred historically, if it is something that is actively changing and shaping my life and the life of every other believer, then the stakes have changed. The picture becomes not one of a person chasing the ends of human ethical limitations but one of her being honed and shaped and molded by the God of the universe to be more like Him - to be ever more perfectly what He made her to be.

If the resurrection is real, then I know that it is not by my own power or morality but by the very hand that created the seas that I am being transformed, and I can be confident, as Paul assures us, that He will be faithful to complete this amazing teleological work in me. If the resurrection did occur, then I know that Christ sits at the right hand of authority, and I know that there really is a point to following Christ and that, as Romans 8 relates, there really is freedom from the condemnation that we were once under by the sacrifice and resurrection of the Son of God.

Without the resurrection, Christianity is nonsensical; without the resurrection, pun intended, Christianity is dead.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Renewal of Things 1

A magnificent stag ran out from the tree line of that thick wood with vivid flames dancing upon it’s antlers. And they could do nothing but watch as it seemed to bow low with its nose to the ground, and the fire licked up to low lying branches; It crept up and onward until, as if in an instant, everything was ablaze before them. The heat reverberated out to them though they were far off, and the stag stood unblinking as he was consumed, hoof to head, by the devouring and cleansing fire – happy, almost it seemed, that the fire, wild and un-harnessed, could move and spread on it’s own.

And there they lay, maimed and dying, waiting for the oncoming fire. There they lay in peace, at the renewal of things
As morning broke on the small band of four hikers, the mist seemed to rise in accord with the terror welling up in each of them. It had been two days since they had lost themselves in the thickly wooded forest, two days since any had slept in even the comfort of a tent. Huddled together with the charred remnants of their small fire, all of them remained transfixed on their lack of food and the strange manner in which one of their companions had died, though none of them said anything concerning either.

Finally, one of them, with his friends blood still splattered across his cheek and soaked into the cuffs of his thermal wear coat, said, “maybe, it was an animal.”

“What animal makes a sound like that? Wh…what animal can do that?” she said, fighting her urge to weep.

“What do we do now? We must have been wandering for hours yesterday! Who knows how far we are from the road.”

“We left the road going West, if we head East, we are bound to hit it! We have to!”

“THERE IS A REASON THAT ROAD IS CLOSED! It dead ends! What if we meandered south, huh? What then? THERE WON’T BE A ROAD TO RUN INTO – JUST WOODS…just…more woods” said another as he stood in his frenzy, knowing well that if they were to have run into the road, it would have happened long before now.

“Calm down, calm down!” said one of the women her eyes wandering while she thought. “There is one main river that runs through this county. Do you remember that stream we saw yesterday? The river must be it’s source, and if we can get there, we are bound to run into a fisherman or a park ranger or something. We have to get back to that stream.”

“I’m not going back there. We can’t go back to that place. We can’t. That’s where it came from – that’s when it started!” said the other woman with her tears now dripping from the tip of her chin.

“What shall we do?! Stay here and be eaten or whatever that was? I’m going to the stream. It is our best hope. It’s our only hope. I won’t sit here to freeze to death…or worse. Besides, we don’t know what it was or if it came from anywhere. Now, we set out pretty straight from that direction, and I’m going back!”

Hungry and resolved, she went, walking through the soft earth and leaves that winter had moistened, holding an old compass inquisitively in front of her, and the others, dejected but lost, followed soon behind her. They wavered in their steps as hunger began to bring on its first signs of strength and the morning crept into early afternoon.

The winter’s sky gleamed sun for only a short while that morning before giving way to dull empty grayness. As they walked, with the smallest sense of purpose in them now, they began to be encouraged, and they almost seemed to forget the horror which befell their friend the previous afternoon. However, whenever their merriment or distraction would grow too great, they would catch sight of each other or their own hands and clothing which was drenched in the now dried blood of their companion. In these instances, the memory of those short minutes hung about them like the darker looming clouds which they could see rolling slowly in over the tree tops.

“We are almost there, I think.” said the leader, lowering her compass. “Is that it? is that the…um…the place? Can you see it?”

Before them was a large mound, almost a small hill, covered in moss and dirt, and just beyond it, which they could hear but not see, was a small trickling stream. As they rounded upon the mound, they could see that on the other side was what looked like a door or gate. It was made of small dried pieces of wood held together by what looked like twine or sinew which hung off it lifeless like emaciated skin. It covered a small opening in the face of the rock, and by the smell of the air that radiated out of the opening, one could tell that the stale environment beyond that door led deep into the earth. By some chance, they had made it back. They hadn’t missed it.

They all hesitated for a moment upon seeing the door. This place was indeed the place they had happened upon just the day before, and now the crooked way in which the door hung seemed to imprint itself on their minds as a warning, almost, of the folly they remembered having fallen upon them after entering that gate, and horror seemed to be near them now breathing at their necks. They stood transfixed and dazed by their own fear. The sky grew even darker. The clouds grew closer.

Breaking the silence first, the leader shook free of the trance and said, “Come on, its just over here.”

And, unthinking, she dipped her hand wildly into the murky water and splashed it to her mouth. The other woman said, “You’ll be sick! You don’t know what’s in that water!” But, it didn’t stop the other boys from falling straight to their knees to slurp up the muddy liquid, and, though it troubled her, the woman could not hold back her raging thirst for long. She joined the others. They drank for, what seemed to them, an eternity. Letting the cool water pass over their frozen and chapped lips.

“What was that?!” Said the leader, raising her head with a start. “Did you hear that?” The others, consumed in their drinking had not heard the shuffling that she had. It was the sound of something approaching. Her heart began to beat faster as she looked around frantically, and the others suddenly became aware of her fear. She rose to her feet and spun around, scanning the woods for the source of the noise. It sounded, faintly, like something bounding on branches and mud. They could hear the little snaps of twigs and movement getting louder and closer. Their breathing heightened, getting faster, and they all came back to back with each other, as every muscle in their bodies tensed.

From the thick wood, stepped an enormous male deer. His hide was almost glistening white, and the curve of his antlers made them stand taut and strong. He emerged with his head held high, and stepped lightly toward them, blinking slowly and naturally. Their breath eased for only a moment before they were caught up in the majesty of the creature and the unpredictability which accompanied his presence. He did not move. He just stood there, at ease, blinking, staring. After a moment, he seemed to peer into the ever black sky as if wrought with painful thought, and as his head lowered back down, he seemed to focus on something just beyond them. He snorted in agitation, and then clamored away proud yet listless.

And at that very moment, a wind seemed to pick up. It was not a strong wind. It was kind of gentle like a breeze, but icy as the breath of one too close for comfort. It gave them all a chill like the feeling one gets when faced with a deathly fear; burning in their stomachs, but freezing on their skin. A few leaves rustled and settled in its wake, and as this malicious breeze blew past them, they could hear it whistling and echoing down the corridor chambers of the little tunnel behind that haphazard fence, in the mound, in the forest.

As yet frozen in their stance from seeing the deer, they all slowly turned to face the crooked gate, and to their surprise, a man stood at the entrance leaning against the earth on one side of the door. He had a leisurely stance, and he was enjoying what looked like an apple or a pear or something. He crossed one arm, tucking it below the other with which he ate. He was a very pale man with stunning, burning eyes. They seemed almost grey, and he was cloaked completely in black with what seemed to be patched clothes of worn suede. A loose hood draped his head so that the fabric hung loosely at the sides.

They could hear the crunch, crunch, crunch, of every mouthful he ate, and as they fought their burning trepidation, they all inched closer to him – together, like a pack. As they approached, he straightened in acknowledgement of them, and he smiled a crooked smile.

Monday, January 11, 2010

On Being and Becoming: The Kingdom of God as an Existential Posit Part VII

This then begs the question as to what the actual parameters of God’s Kingdom really are, for while the point has already been made that the boundaries of the Kingdom are not meant to be supposed earthly and political, it is still evident that to the first-century eyes, the idea of Kingdom had to deal with “the geographical aspect of basileia; for the status of a king is shown by the area over which he reigns. basileia assumes therefore the meaning kingdom, signifying the state or area over which a king reigns.”[1] Further, as already partly noted, one sees that the term “Basileia refers primarily to the act or process of ruling, a quality or privilege that distinguishes a king or other ruler. To have basileia is to possess control, power, freedom, and independence.”[2] So in seeking the answer to this query one might notice that it points to an existential paradigm – it leads again to that idea of being and becoming. One sees this as evident, in orientation to the parameters of Gods kingdom, when realizing that “Jesus believed that the Creator God had purposed, from the beginning, to deal with the problems within His creation through Israel; through Israel, the Creator God would heal the world.”[3] If the essential message of the covenantal paradigm introduces the idea of a sacred identity in affiliation with the holy, and if Christ’s position as headship of the Kingdom of God is an active one, then the place where God’s Kingdom urges its dwellers to work for progress comes through that reconciliation to wholeness both in the self and in the whole of creation so that they themselves embody those concentric realities, and given the denouncement of physical boundaries, the authority of the headship can be more widely professed to and realized by those psychically outside of the Kingdom. Consider John Perkins words when he says:

"To do the work of reconciliation, then, we must begin by being a reconciled fellowship, by being the Body of Christ, we must model the kind of relationships into which we want to invite others. Our love for each other gives credibility and power to our witness. We must begin by being."[4]

While Perkins is poignantly here talking in the area of racial reconciliation, the essential point for this discussion rings through. The idea of the wholeness as concerns the Kingdom is at once a reality which must be embodied and manifested but in turn must also be reached and struggled toward. It is a posit which urges the covenant believers of Christ to not only take up the reality of power and fullness in their identity as that covenant community as well as the truth of Christ’s active headship, but to also become and work toward that embodiment in reconciliation. This is tantamount in one teaching of N.T. Wright when he says:

"We have often seen Jesus’ challenge as a set of timeless ethics. We have read the Sermon on the Mount, people still read the Sermon on the Mount, as though it were simply a set of rules hanging in midair – it wasn’t. It began life as the challenge to Israel to be Israel."[5]

It is a challenge to covenant people to become in line with the fullness which is professed upon them by taking up that fullness in the present and then expounding it upon creation at the same time. It is a challenge to the covenant people to lay down the claims that mark earthly citizenship (security, greed, selfish ambition) and take up the self-sacrificing nature of the headship Himself to achieve reconciliation of the self to its fullness but to also promote that reconciliation of other selves to that fullness so that the reality becomes marked by the notion that “[f]rom the highest to the lowest, [one’s] self exists to be abdicated and, by that abdication, becomes the more truly self, to be thereupon yet the more abdicated[.]”[6] One progresses the Kingdom of God by diminishing the self and pushing for the progress of the other and reconciliation of the whole of creation to the restoration of an Eden-like harmony – as he stands in the world today and in the hope of its realization in the future and in eschaton. As Adam’s very existential reality was tied up in an identity which heralded God’s authority unto creation, so too does the Christian pronounce God’s rule by the very existential institution of being and becoming.

And finally, as one harkens back to that image of the wild dancing prairie flower, taking up its identity in the fullness of the present and in its participation in existent reality as well as contingent growth, it becomes evident that the Kingdom of God is not simply something that can be sidestepped as an eschatological paradigm, but it demands the renewal of the covenant person’s thinking to address the reconciliation of the world in the present. The Kingdom of God pushes for the covenant follower to take the stance that waves not a flag but the very self in allegiance to the King – Christ. To do this, as surveyed here, it is critical that such a follower would espouse a paradigm that at the same time takes in the full realization of the immanent identity bestowed upon her in the light of her relationship and orientation to the truth of her full-fledged acceptance into that paradigm.And now suddenly, that dancing prairie flower makes sense because it is a metaphor. The flower, caught up in the winds of its being, reveals itself and the Kingdom dweller in this essential tension. And it makes sense that what philosophers only gawk at with their existentialist jargon was something like the Christian message all along – that the covenant people are, and that is okay. The covenant people are, and God loves them. The covenant people are, and God continues to work in them. The covenant people are whole, because Christ, who is their being, is perfect. The covenant people are participants of this new creation, and they can walk with confidence in that manifestation of identity given them by the Almighty creator in His present Kingdom, and they are working for the full manifestation of the Kingdom as a future hope. They are free to once more walk quietly with their God as in the freshness of Eden, and drink coolly the river waters of a real spiritual life unbound by those ideological nooses associated with a life of simple, trivial, and earthly kingdoms and politics– in this example of the flower, God reveals the struggle in the covenant to be and become; God reveals His Kingdom.

[1] Brown, New International.
[2] Harris, Understanding, 504.
[3] N.T. Wright, “Jesus and the Kingdom.”
[4] John Perkins, With Justice for All (California: Regal, 1975), 138-139.
[5] Wright, “Jesus and the Kingdom.”
[6] Clive Staples Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: HarperCollins, 1996), 157.

On Being and Becoming: The Kingdom of God as an Existential Posit Part VI

This, then, is in striking contrast to the theocracy proposed by the original Israelite nation and all of the parameters in its physical manifestation. Robert Bolin touches on the heart of this issue in a striking example from Joshua when, seeing a generation of Israelites preparing for exile and editing its scriptures to prepare for that challenge, he says, “The story of Achan [in Joshua] offers a vivid example of that situation which is viewed negatively in the expression, ‘in those days there was no king in Israel; every one did what was right in his own eyes.’”[1] For, in the gospels portrayal of God’s Kingdom, the faculties of a formed nation are no longer susceptible to the whims of the frail hearted, unfaithful, and anarchistic people, the brush painting Israel here, that was supposed to remember Yahweh at its headship, nor was there to be overt allegiance to the authoritative entities of the earthly realm. No, for God’s Kingdom there is no political union which has any distinguished flag or country to defend, but from its earliest, Christian community “[…]enacted an integrative covenant, embracing Jews and Gentiles, poor and rich, men and women, slaves and free.”[2] In truth, the patriotic is replaced by the faithful and passionate servant; the nation is formed, not by those who are appropriated simply by being born in a geographical section of the earth or by a particular ideological affiliation, but they are that vast population of believing individuals who are united in theocracy by their devotion to Christ as the king of the whole of the cosmos versus any human and diminished authority. And seeing Christ at the headship is only natural in this scenario, of course, since “all the options laid before Jesus by the tempter are ways of being king[…] the title is meant messianically and not metaphysically” – Christ takes up the seat of authority proclaimed by Yahweh in Theocracy and he does it in a manifested and immanent manner appealing to His citizens’ identity and not simply their patriotism.[3]

Again, this appeals to the paradigm of being and becoming. While the believer is able to take up the identity of covenantal orientation to God, she also anticipates the coming realization of the fullness of God. Christ’s parousia is that culminating event that brings history to fullness in harmony with God as Christ ushers in “his return in heavenly glory[,]’” but to the believer, the end can never admonish the present.[4] By struggling and growing, by striving and pushing, the believer is not forsaken in the covenantal identity in the present, she is wholly and fully accepted within those parameters, but she is also continually striving to become what is demanded of her in the Kingdom light so that her identity is “[…] a truth which you celebrate in worship and which you then have to go and work for in the world.”[5] The individual believer continues to strive for the realization of what she is completely meant to be by the imitation of Christ, but in His sacrifice, she, as well as the entire following of Kingdom dwelling believers, is at once and always accepted as fully integrated within that system much like – in a fitting metaphor – a prince is not a king but is continually anticipating the time when he will become king, though, in so doing, he never forsakes his royal identity at any point. Not that the Christian desires to usurp or inherit the divine throne, obviously, but she struggles toward becoming that further progression in identity which aligns itself in likeness to the Divine King. In this one sees plainly “that Christian brotherhood is not an ideal but a divine reality […] that Christian brotherhood is a spiritual and not a psychic reality” – it is not contingent upon our own earthly musings or ideology but wholly on the our professed identity.[6]

This, of course, leads right back to the idea of Israel’s concentric circles and God’s divine presence. In the covenantal paradigm, by this measure, Israel was not producing and practicing the rites of a people group who were desirous of the their deity to come and take over the ruling duties of their nation as an expected and hoped for event in the future, but they took up the identity of a covenant people and lived according to that identity as God ruled over them at the present time; Yahweh was already in their midst as a leading figure in the presence of the Tabernacle. So, even though the dwelling place of God’s presence is disjunct from the holy temple and replaced by the believing heart, how the Kingdom of God manifests, as professed to the Christian, is a similar idea, because “The original meaning of the term basileia [or the word here referenced for kingdom in Greek] is the fact of being king, the position or power of the king, and it is best translated office of king, kingly rule (e.g. Aristotle, Politics 3, 1285b, 20).”[7] The Christian covenant believer is not waiting to enact the covenant identity until some sort of eschatological telos, but she lives in an immanent reality so that it “is not that earth is a kind of training ground for heaven, but that heaven and earth are designed to overlap and interlock.”[8]

[1] Bolin, Joshua, 230; Joshua 7.
[2] Thomas Kazen, “The Christology of Early Christian Practice,” in Journal of Biblical Literature, vol. 127, no. 3, ed. James C Vanderkam (Fall 2008): 601.
[3] John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 24-25.
[4] Stephen Harris, Understanding the Bible 6th Edition (Boston: McGraw-Hill Co., 2003), 406.
[5] Wright, Reformational UK.
[6] Dietrich Bohnhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community, trans. John W. Doberstein (New York: HarperCollins, 1954), 26.
[7] Brown, New International.
[8] N.T. Wright, “On Earth as it is in Heaven”; available from ; Internet; accessed 11 October 2009.

On Being and Becoming: The Kingdom of God as an Existential Posit Part V

So then, as the gospel and the idea of God’s renewed Kingdom burst onto the scene one has to notice that it is distinctly anti-Caesarian. The word Gospel itself is appropriated from the Caesar cult and used in a fashion that places Christ over and against the authority of Cesar along with many other titles and phrases that appeal to the total authority of the emperor.[1] One might dismiss such a claim as that necessary vocabulary that creates solidarity in the wake of persecution, but whatever the reason, the important thing to note, in searching for the meaning of God’s Kingdom, is that such anti-Caesarian ideas do not make political boundaries for Israel or the new covenant of Christians any clearer. In fact, one might say that it makes the promotion of political association quite a bit more askew. But consider for a moment what Augustine says in his thoughts on earthly kingdoms:

"[God] gives earthly kingdoms to the good or the evil so that his worshippers, who are still children as regard moral progress, may not desire these gifts from him as something great. It is the sacrament of the Old Testament, in which the New Testament is hidden, […] for even then spiritual people understood, though they did not yet openly declare, the eternity symbolized by these temporal things[.]"[2]

While the allegory in this thinking is grossly archaic and, perhaps, too sorely leaned upon, it is striking to note that even in this example of a much earlier time in Christian thinking, earthly kingdoms are seen in a much more diminished light to that of the realization of the “spiritual person” to the reality of a higher value – that such a person could survey from afar, proverbially, the metaphysical territory in which earthly kingdoms could potentially occupy and realize at the same time (and in the same time, no doubt) the self’s participation in and the efficacy overall of the other; by comparing the earthly kingdoms as an allegory to the heavenly, it creates a sense of immanent participation in the heavenly kingdom as a Christian covenant member while at the same time allowing for the potential of a coming fruition of that reality. Perhaps the reality of the Kingdom of God is manifested in a similar way so that it is always in contrast to any sort of actual political dimension as an independent sphere in which those participating (those covenant people) are both striving to see it come fully while also dwelling within it. Perhaps the use of vocabulary that strictly avoided giving political nod to Rome but appropriated it for a different idea of what Kingdom was to mean, by the early church, was really more meant to create something similar to the type of orientation Augustine speaks of; maybe the idea of the Kingdom of God was much less about political ferocity in earthly dominion and much more meant to create an existent paradigm based upon that archaic idea of covenant identity in orientation to the actual ruling Godhead.

So by this, one sees that in the Kingdom of God there is no earthly boundary created in which the new political messiah can thereby rule from a kingly or imperial throne, but what it does do is complete that work which the exilic psychological effect began in Israel’s orientation to God. That is to say, instead of keeping the covenant people on hold waiting for the re-installment of God’s earthly kingship, God reinstates that harmony that was lost with the fall and which Israel could not keep in their own monarchy. Christ’s proclamation of the Kingdom of God, finishes the job of severing the political and human ideology which had suffocated Israel in her monarchy and reinstates the intended harmony originally meant by the installation of theocracy. The covenant identity that Israel has always clung to and which, even in the exile, defined her, fully lost the expectation of human institution through monarchy that kept it from the true harmony intended in theocracy; God, through Christ’s declaration, reestablished His own rule once again so that “what we are really talking about is a verb, an action – God ruling, God reigning.”[3]

[1] Shane Claiborne and Chris Shaw, Jesus for President (Michigan: Zondervan, 2008), 65-73.
[2] Augustine, Political Writings, trans. Miachael W. Tkacs and Douglas Kries (Indianapolis: Hacket, 1994), 35.
[3] N.T. Wright, Reformational UK.

On Being and Becoming: The Kingdom of God as an Existential Posit Part IV

One should not here argue, obviously, that Israel gave up whole heartedly on the restoration of political nationhood. It is an obvious thematic expectation in the time of Christ. However, by breaking out of the political parameters and into the religious, dogmatic, and eventually Pharisaic sphere, the nation of Israel created a space where their being was inseparably associated not as much with their national affiliation but more with their covenantal duties and rites. So, while one sees Ezekiel proclaiming the resignation of God from the temple and the land and Israel herself waiting expectantly for the arrival of a political champion and messiah, their orientation to God is still espoused through a covenantal identity.[1]

Taking this sort of identity into view, it is necessary to next see the historical landscape that surrounds Christ’s proclamation of the Kingdom of God. Looking to the culture at large, it is not hard to find evidence that the idea of prudence in an authority’s, namely the king’s, relationship with legality and the divine was essential to the Hellenistic lifestyle. In fact, one need not look much further than Aristotle who was one of, if not the, most prolific philosophers of the Hellenistic era, who says:

"Therefore he who asks law to rule is asking God and intelligence and no others to rule; while he who asks the rule of a human being is importing a wild beast too; for desire is like a wild beast, and anger perverts rulers and the very best of men. Hence law is intelligence without appetition."[2]

While Aristotle and the Platonic school of thought traditionally substitutes the pantheon in real faith for a more monotheistic model, the affect of such thinking on the political realm cannot be thought of as diminished simply by the sheer magnitude of influence it had in relation to the ruling imperial power. By the time of Christ’s rise to ministry, the penance due to God by the ruling and legal strata, as suggested by Aristotle here, had progressed from mere conjunction with or subordination to God in the Hellenistic ideal and law to that which was most essentially tied to the political backdrop of the Caesars. If even, in the beginning, some of Rome’s emperors did not accept a divine title, it was certainly being professed of them and demanded of the later ones so that the union of God and law was the human emperor.[3]

Here, one might suggest that at least some of the synoptic accounts are written in light of the persecution that had arisen toward Christians in the political realm. Perhaps this persecution is meant as a backlash to the Jewish revolt and the early Christians associations therein as a Jewish sect by the Roman stance. Either way, “proclaiming Jesus as the Lord, was to destroy [the] vital ideology of the Roman imperium, and the reaction it called forth was the persecution of Christians during the first three centuries.”[4] By creating a kingdom reality apart from the imperial eye, Jesus’ pronouncement of the Kingdom of God sets up kingdom boundaries that encompass the whole of creation and the entirety of one’s paradigm(s) – it disorients the centrality of Jerusalem in Israelite tradition, but more poignantly Roman headship, and gives the whole of creation the potential to be that holy land occupied by that holy people. Scholar N.T. Wright notes this when he says, “Kingdom of Heaven/ Kingdom of God is not the place called heaven where God rules. It is the fact that God who is in heaven rules.”[5] By claiming the divine title, the Caesars had transgressed upon the sacred territory of the divine and so God’s kingdom is a call to not only remember the truth of God’s sovereignty but to also live it out as that separate sphere.

[1] Ezekiel 10.
[2] Aristotle, The Politics, trans. T.A. Sinclair (New York: Penguin, 1984), 226.
[3] Craig Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1997), 36-37.
[4]Colin Brown ed., “Basileia,” New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology 5.1, in LaserD[CD-Rom] (Michigan: Zondervan, 2005).
[5] N.T. Wright, “Whatever Did Saint Paul do with the Kingdom of God?,” Reformational UK: A Christianity Without Gaps (June 2007); available from ;Internet; accessed 11 October 2009.

On Being and Becoming: The Kingdom of God as an Existential Posit Part III

As one notices that there is little provision for those nations “out there” in the wilderness for their access to the inner circle of holiness, as concerns the original Israelite covenant and this concentric circle paradigm, she might also realize that this more reflects the actuality of Israel and God’s concern with the outplay of covenantal being; Israel was that people who were meant to restore the harmony lost in Adam as an immanent and intermediary agent. With God at their head, Israel was meant to have a proclamatory stance to the world, but they were not doing this through their words or propaganda. No, they were to do this through their very lives – the very way in which they were being.

In seeking a view of God’s kingdom from a Jewish standpoint, one can imagine that this type of thinking was progressed in the age of the monarchy. Here, the temple replaces the tabernacle and national Israel replaces tribal Israel. Though one sees that God is no longer in the seat of the “king,” it is no less significant that the expectation of the king was always meant to be that agent of Divine will. God was still meant to be the head of the structure and His presence was still meant to be within Israel housed most specifically in the most holy place in the temple. Now, as one sees Israel’s identity get wrapped up in the idea of nationhood, it then collapses (to vastly over-simplify the details of their exile!). With the death of Josiah, one sees the nation Israel at the brink of collapse and their identity as the covenant people in jeopardy. It is here that some suggest the idea of nationhood begins to evolve in the face of such destruction. One biblical commentator, Robert Bolin, notes this about the evolving face of Israel’s nationhood in the context of exile:

"What began with Yahweh’s conquest (read “pacification”) of Canaan had issued most recently in Yahweh’s defeat and destruction of the northern nation-state (Dtr1). After the death of good King Josiah, the same was in process for the southern kingdom. It was about time to make a new start – with Yahweh the King of Israel."[1]

It is interesting that the conquered people do not look collectively to the earthly realm to fulfill the need for an overarching authority even when faced with their enemies, but they raise up God as an authority in response to, and one might argue in defiance of, a foreign authority. In conjunction with this, one might suggest that the priests’ role in the covenant community becomes heightened, if this truly is the time that a priestly addition was made to the Torah, so that the authority of Israel’s identity is housed within the confines of their religious or temple components. Thus, the idea of political countenance is relinquished, but the sovereignty of identity, of their being, becomes something unattainable by the foreign and pagan kings, for at the point of exile in the history of Israel, “the community of believers puts at the center of all decision-making the value of the individual, the quality of responsible life[…] and the willingness of the individual to be governed by ethic, to be ruled by the[…] ever-free and ever-reigning Lord.”[2] By transforming their nationhood into a borderless paradigm, Israel is then able to maintain a covenantal identity within the world; by making their reality more about Torah stipulations and obedience than earthly monarchal countenance, Israel is able to maintain a collectively psychological orientation to pureness and covenant as well as at least the hope, if not reality to some degree psychologically, of theocracy.

[1] Robert Bolin and G.E. Wright, Joshua. A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New York: Doubleday, 1982), 545.

[2] Bolin, Joshua, 544.

On Being and Becoming: The Kingdom of God as an Existential Posit - part II

One thing to think about when considering such a posit is the nature of what it means to be a covenant person of God. If one takes a look at the idea of Ancient Israel and their orientation to their own cultural paradigms, one thing begins to become evident in the way they viewed the manifestation of holiness in the world. This is the idea of different spheres of holiness that are concentrated in the most holy and are then espoused to less holy concentric areas as one moves further away from the center or most holy sphere. In this, one sees that “[t]aken together the results seem to suggest that spiritual life occurred [for Ancient Israel] in three concentric spheres.”[1] This, of course, is found in the idea of the tabernacle and its interplay with both Israel as a people and the world. The Tabernacle is, of course, that most holy place, but beyond this it gives way to the next but less prominently holy place in the camp of Israel. After the camp of Israel, by this model, the concentric spheres lead away from the tabernacle to the ultimately destitute nations and land outside the camp in the wilderness, into chaos.

It is easy to see that Divine presence becomes less and less the further one journeys through these concentric spheres.[2] This type of structure gives heir to Israelite identity as a covenant community. Here, one might argue that any spiritual factors aside, this type of existent worldview has a pronounced psychological stance on the orientation of the self, in the Subject of an Israelite, to Yahweh and that realm of holiness. When God proclaims Israel a nationhood of priests, He ultimately shapes them as that people bound within the confines of not only national boundaries but much more psychical boundaries as related to their actual orientation to Him.[3] While sin was definitely present and accounted for in the Atonement sacrifices in Ancient Israel and while the full extent to which God’s manifested presence is found in the holiness of the tabernacle, the nation of Israel, through the theocracy of God, found itself as that identifiable intermediary between chaos and the divine.

The idea of God reaching out to the world through a human intermediary was not simply started with the rise of Ancient Israel, in the biblical tradition, but one might argue that this is an idea that was set out and expounded through the very moment of first creation in Adam. Scholar Richard Hess takes this idea up when he speaks of Adam’s likeness to God by saying:

"What then is the meaning of the terms image (tselem) and likeness (demuth), used here to describe the image of God? It is best illustrated in the practice of ancient Near East kings of erecting or carving out images in order to represent their power and rulership over far-reaching areas of their empires. These represented the dominion of the ruler when the sovereign was not present in the region[.]"[4]

One here sees that Adam himself may have been a symbol of that divine work in creation and thus that herald to Divine authority in creation. With this idea in mind, it can be noted that the very core, in the Israelite orientation to theocracy, was always meant to see humanity as that which announces Divine presence and authority. So, when interacting with these concentric realities of earthly living, perhaps the emphasis is much more meant to express a covenant identity of such an intermediary role in contrast to a ritualistic or legalistic promulgation so that Israel is much more measured in the way that it lives out covenant reality. Not only is God a jealous God, desiring their affection, passion, and commitment, but Israel itself is set up as that to which the Divine is present, and they are meant to embody that identity.

[1] Richard Hess, Israelite Religions (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 183.
[2] Hess, Israelite, 183.
[3] Exodus 19:6.
[4] Richard S. Hess, “Equality With and Without Innocence,” in Discovering Biblical Equality, ed. Ronald W. Pierce et al (Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 81.

On Being and Becoming: The Kingdom of God as an Existential Posit Part I

There is a whisper in the wind as it blows through a field of wild and vibrant flowers set high in the back hills of a rolling, prairie country side. The animated colors vibrantly dance and swoon through the arms of their love, the wind. To spend the vast portion of their days lost in the frail rhythmic sway between them, leaves a mark on their being that is more incumbent than the long strings of borrowed time in which they would suffer to be trapped in daily – playing for themselves merely the contingent truths of this moment to that. But here, in this primal movement on the hills, there is something more…something deeper. There is some great connection; there is some primal truth that connects them with the heartbeat of what it means to exist, thumping and pounding in a syncopated pattern from the deep cavern chambers of the life of being. There is the unspeakable and yet familiar which comes near to these flowers as created beings flailing in the wind and yet beckons them to blossom, to grow. What does it mean to be? What is it to exist? How do we allow ourselves to be enraptured in the fullness and frailty of the deepest existence? How do we engage a reality in which we are one in being with Christ and yet know the equal reality of His working and refining as an on-going process in our lives? What does it look like for a child of God to sit confidently at the Eucharist table, a whore and yet a child? How does one take up the question of being and becoming as the whole of the Christian community upholds its identity as Christ's Kingdom?

To speak of the Kingdom of God, for the Christian, is to more rightly bring into focus the whole sweeping paradigm of what it means to be a Christian. The Kingdom of God is that much anticipated reign of God for his covenant people; it is the restoration of the harmony lost in the fall at Eden. However, at the same time, it is more than this. The Kingdom is also realized by means of the process in achieving harmony as well – God’s ultimate means of reconciling the world to this harmony. Tragically, and far too often, “[m]any of our traditions have taught us about a Jesus who wasn’t into shaping a world but into escaping the world – that’s the worldview out of which Gnosticism grows.”[1] In truth the urgency with which this topic comes, is revealed by the very nature that the full scope of realization in Yahweh’s theocracy has its heart in the tensions found in that minute space between being and becoming, an existential posit.

Here, one can lean on the ideas of the French philosopher Guilles Deleuze who, when speaking of language, talks about the pronounced anti-systematic intermingling of major and minor languages. This idea has to deal with the interaction of minor dialects in language to the overarching languages that house them and the extent to which the evolutionary nature of language is expressed when those dialects, as the minor language, over take the role of the primary creating a new language all together or, more accurately, the new phase of their common language. So, for example, one could look at the seemingly foreign tongue of Old English in classics like Beowulf and note that while the text was English, it was also becoming English; the phases of growth are actually contained within the identity of the whole so that “[t]here are not, therefore, two kinds of languages but two possible treatments of the same language.”[2] This is a fitting parallel for the orientation of the Christian to the Kingdom of God. It is that necessary position which speaks the truth of Christ’s message on the Kingdom as that reality which waits in expectant hope for Christ’s parousia and full reign, but it allows also one to take up an identity of full fruition in their orientation to that Kingdom as Christ does His work in the world and in the personal life. The Kingdom is and it is becoming.

[1] N.T. Wright, “Jesus and the Kingdom,” InterVarsity Press Conference (January 1999); available from ; Internet; accessed 11 October 2009.

[2] Guilles Deleuze, “Language: Major and Minor,” The Deleuze Reader (New York: Columbia UP, 1993), 148.

The Bibliography for "On Being and Becoming: The Kingdom of God as an Existential Posit"

Aristotle. The Politics. Translated by T.A. Sinclair. New York: Penguin, 1984.

Augustine. Political Writings. Translated by Michael W. Tkacs and Douglas
Kries. Indianapolis: Hacket, 1994.

Blomberg, Craig. Jesus and the Gospels. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1997.

Bohnhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in
Community. Translated by John W. Doberstein. New York: HarperCollins, 1954.

Bolin, Robert and G.E. Wright, Joshua. A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. New York: Doubleday, 1982.

Brown, Colin ed. “Basileia,” New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology 5.1. LaserD. CD-Rom. Michigan: Zondervan, 2005.

Claiborne, Shane and Chris Shaw. Jesus For President. Michigan: Zondervan, 2008.

Deleuze, Guilles. “Language: Major and Minor.” The Deleuze Reader. New York: Columbia UP, 1993.

Harris, Stephen. Understanding the Bible 6th Edition. Boston: McGraw-Hill Co., 2003.

Hess, Richard. “Equality With and Without Innocence,” In Discovering Biblical Equality, ed. Ronald W. Pierce et al., 81. Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2005

____________. Israelite Religions. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007.

Kazen, Thomas. “The Christology of Early Christian Practice,” In Journal of Biblical Literature, vol. 127, no. 3, ed. James C. Vanderkam (Fall 2008): 601.

Lewis, Clive Staples. The Problem of Pain. New York: HarperCollins, 1996.

Perkins, John. With Justice for All. California: Regal, 1975.

Wright, N.T. “Jesus and the Kingdom,” InterVarsity Press Conference (January 1999); Internet; accessed 11 October 2009; available from http://www.ntwrightpage.com/.

__________. “On Earth as it is in Heaven”; Internet; accessed 11 October 2009; available from http://www.ntwrightpage.com/sermons/Earth_Heaven.htm.

___________. “Whatever Did Saint Paul do with the Kingdom of God?” Reformational UK: A Christianity Without Gaps (June 2007); Internet; accessed 11 October 2009; available from http://www.reformational.org.uk/index.php?option=com_frontpage&Itemid=1.

Yoder, John Howard. The Politics of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994.

Something New

I said I was going to be blogging more about... mmm... five months ago or so, and thus far - bupkiss ( is that how you spell that?).

Well, here is the truth, my meager yet eager following, there is something coming, and I don't have a ton of time before I get bogged down in study again. So, that means I need to get at least the first part up soon. Until then, please enjoy this wonderfully and exacerbatingly dense piece I wrote about the Kingdom of God, and i am going to do it in increments so that you don't have to digest it in full. In it you will notice that I developed some of the language from previous posts, and as Gimli says after he has fallen off of a horse, in the second Lord of the Rings movie " Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: "That was deliberate! That was deliberate!" yay!

brazos de El Paso.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Let it BURN!

There are times when I am full of this murdering rage. When the life of another seems simple and trivial as that of a knot on the end of a balloon – with one twist, one prick, without any hesitation and little force, every inch of air can be cut right out. And the balloon, it will wither and deflate with awful gasps and gaseous groans. It will writhe in the immanent departure of vitality – jerking side to side like a candle struggling in the gust of a door blown open by a tempest wind. And eventually, it will lie pathetic and malformed, lifeless on the ground, and I will envision it with once sultry eyes that have been burnt out. They will beckon me, those eyes, to return to sanity, to return to some sense of decency, but they will have been ill-informed on the manner and nature of my sympathies. For, what the eyes do not know is that dwelling in the cold dark cavern chamber where a heart should be, is the foulest void that is not only lacking anything like feeling, but actually has the power to suck sympathy and life from others like a light ray trying to out run the reach of a dead star; of a black hole.

In that moment, I will imagine that these fake eyes upon this balloon will harbor long and treacherous nights staring into the very core of me as if questioning my motives; as if begging an answer to the question “Why?” I also imagine myself staring back at them in a determined psychosis, laughing.

“There is no ‘why’,” I would say and then heartily explain that I did it for the mere enjoyment of stealing a balloon from a child to watch it deflate!

Yet still, other ideas come to mind, in the times of such macabre imaginings – in those moments of folly or triumph…depending on your perspective. Like one might think death on another to be swift and forceful, and the only fitting metaphor is actually more an associate of sound. It would be like the puff of wind that blows out from something enormous hitting something else enormous and then silenced – like a boulder falling hundreds of feet to the earth, exasperating all of its fine kinetic energy in a single blow of force, and then simply rolling to one side in an almost post coital dose. That would be the end of a life! Grandiose and extreme – but only a moment’s breathe in length. I can imagine people around standing dazed as to whether or not the killing they had just seen was one that had actually taken place or if, by some miracle, it was no more than the flash of some inventive subliminal marketing scheme trying to get them to drink soda more or have sex better or make their kitchens cleaner or die later, but there the evidence would lie pooling at their feet or splattered upon their faces. It would be that hard evidence to reassure them that they were witnesses to such a crime – if indeed one could call it that. Again, maybe it is all but a game of perspective.

But one should not be crass, there must be some reason for these instances of psychosis, for without reason, death by the hand of another is something crude altogether. It is like a prostitute’s kiss – it is something that seems like it should be a natural part of a common proceeding, yet it is strangely out of place. What sort of action can bring someone to the point of such confusion; to such madness as to drive and crack the mind into hinterworlds of homicide where the ground drinks blood and the stomach longs for nothing more than the entrails of another. Perhaps, and I am no expert, it is mere agitation. Maybe, when there is the presence of some sort of overt annoyance like the buzzing of another in the ear when they come far too close to the face than would naturally be expected, and the stink of them seeps into the lining of your nostril and their very air blows lightly onto your neck where no breath beyond a lover’s should be - when it ceases to stop at the appropriate distance that marks a place of comfort. Perhaps, it is when the one is left with wringing hands and a sweating brow because of a mere sound made by another. Maybe, the mind is more fragile than would have been previously implied – maybe this psychosis lingers so close to the natural frame of mind that it is not really so foreign but a true mark of conformity. Maybe it is so close to all of us that it IS the natural, and its suppression is the true psychosis.

And maybe the one who is reading this will give stern warning to me for their distaste of the reproachful subject. Maybe, they would soon rather see me ostracized than read any more of this garbage. “And you call yourself a Christian – respectable – decent- whatever,” they would say, and I would murmur with that rabid foam of murder still trickling from my chin, as it droops down to stain the shirt upon my chest, that I apologize for nothing. For, even now as it alights upon my knee giving little electric ticklish jolts, and while it prods around my thick layer of hair and flaps near my ear with a high pitch squealing buzz, I have no sympathy for this little fly that has invaded my home or the millions of friends I know it will bring with it tomorrow. So, when I catch it I will crush it, and I will dance upon its body with the exuberance of ten marching bands on a Thanksgiving Day parade! And I shall be at peace!

But for now, let this heart blaze with a fury like Jupiter! Let it rage with the sounding of Mars’ battle horn! Let it brood like the furthest depths of Hades’ kingdom!

Let this heart burn! Let it burn! Let it burn!