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 is 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, concentrically, to less holy areas as one moves further away from the center  spheres. 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 interplay between the Tabernacle/Temple and both Israel as a people and the world more generally. So, for example, the Tabernacle/Temple is, of course, that highest of holy places, with the holy of holies espousing even greater significance, but beyond this there is 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, and into chaos. It is easy to see that the divine Presence, according to the beliefs of ancient Israel,  becomes ever diminished the further one journeys through these concentric spheres.[2]

This type of cultural structure, obviously, is at the heart of the ancient Israelites' identity as a covenant community. Here, one might argue that any spiritual factors aside, this type of existential worldview has a pronounced psychological affect on the orientation of the self, in the subjective view of an Israelite, to Yahweh and His 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 psychological and cultural boundaries as related to their actual orientation to Him through His Presence at the Tabernacle/Temple.[3] Therefore, when Yahweh declares that the entire nation of Israel are priests, His intention is to create a bridge between the aforementioned spheres of holiness in order to allow the turbid and less holy nations of the world an entry point to His Presence; Israel was meant to be that servant who would administer access to a relationship with the one true God. However, because ancient Israel was placed at the crux between dwelling in the shadow of the Presence of God and yet still drenched by the curse of interminable sin, she, through the theocracy of God, found herself 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. And, taking a cue from the first man of their own mythology, it can be noted that the very core of Israelite's orientation to their own theocracy was always meant to be an existential paradigm, which had the purpose, ultimately, of announcing the divine Presence and authority to a corrupted, fallen world. Israel dwelt in the Presence of God, and they were 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

The wind mumbles as it blows through a field of wild and vibrant flowers, which is set high on the back hills of a rolling, prairie country side. The animated colors exuberantly dance and swoon through the arms of their love, the wind. Spending the vast portion of their days lost in the frail rhythmic sway between them, leaves an incumbent mark on the very being of the breeze and the flora that is much more than the long strings of borrowed time in which they suffer to be daily trapped in – playing out for themselves merely the contingent realities of this moment to that. Indeed, in this primal movement on the hills, there is something arcane, something recondite. 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 infinite cavern chambers of the life of being. There is the unspeakable and yet familiar, as from the deep, which comes near to these flowers as created beings, as they are flailing in the wind, and beckons them to blossom and 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 most deep-seated existence? How do we engage a reality in which we are at once already atoned by 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 the manifestation of Christ's Kingdom in the present and the becoming of Christ's Kingdom at the consummation of time?

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 at the fall in 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.”[1] In truth the urgency with which this topic comes, is revealed by the very nature that the full scope of realization of Yahweh’s theocracy has its heart the tensions found in that minute space between being and becoming. It is 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, a 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 return and full reign while also affording one the privilege of an identity that is marked by full fruition in their orientation to that Kingdom. Of course, such an identity fruits concurrently as Christ does His work in her personal and spiritual life, that which the Christian calls sanctification. In essence, 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.