Monday, November 23, 2009


While in a conversation with a friend, a book I read three years ago came to mind. One angle of the book I really found profound and timely. Mind you, I read this book several months before the enormous economic crisis came to light for most of the world's population. Brian uses the term Suicide Machine to describe the systems our nation and most of the rest of the world are attempting to operate within. At the time, I was beginning to see the madness in much the same light myself. During that season it was like all of my friends would begin to have convulsions when they would see me approaching. Today they are no longer having seizures while around me, due to the revelations over the past couple years in regards to the systems many have been shaped to trust in that are now proving themselves untrustworthy. They always have been.

What I didn't like about the book was Brian's attempt to produce a blueprint that the world might follow in order to create more just systems. I want to believe that is possible but somehow I'm left thinking that systems will always fail us and placing our trust and hope in them will always leave us disappointed and in full fear mode simply due to the reality that whatever can be shaken will continue to be shaken. And systems will always call for the sacrifice of people when caring for people becomes too much of a drag on the systems. It's just their nature.

Out of curiosity I went through my blog archives to reread some of the posts I made regarding Brian McLaren's book Everything Must Change and I found something though that turns out, has been at the center of a beautiful change that began to happen inside me during the season I faced myself in the mirror and I stepped outside that familiar existence so as to take a critical look at what I believed that in turn dictated how I was living. This speaks of a life that cannot be shaken and a life that actually has the power to change everything....and it has nothing to do with shakable and failure prone systems.

"The phrase "kingdom of God" on Jesus' lips, then, means almost the opposite of what an American like me might assume, living in the richest, most powerful nation on earth. To the citizen of Western civilization like me, kingdom language suggest order, stability, government, policy, domination, control, maybe even vengeance on the rebels and threats of banishment for the uncooperative. But on Jesus' lips, those words describe Caesar's kingdom: God's kingdom turns all of those associations upside down. Order becomes opportunity, stability melts into movement and change, status-quo government gives way to revolution of community and neighborliness, policy bows to love, domination descends to service and sacrifice, control morphs into influence and inspiration, vengeance and threats are transformed into forgiveness and blessing.

In his message of the kingdom of God, then, Jesus proposes a radical new framing story, and he wanted people to trust him enough to give his way to peace a chance. How does he do so? In public, he teaches people (often using parables, which invite them to think rather than telling them what to think) and heals them (which is often described as freeing or liberating them from disease and demons)---rather than propagandizing them (telling them what to think while simultaneously keeping them from thinking for themselves) controlling them (oppressing them under sick and demonic systems of oppression). In private, he eats meals with people---all the wrong sorts of people---to demonstrate that the kingdom of God transforms by grace and acceptance rather than by fear or threats of exclusion. In the midst of Rome's empire, wherever Jesus goes, he creates a family meal where all are welcome.
Some will be quick to note that Jesus also used strong language of exclusion---being thrust into "outer darkness," for example where there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth." But in an irony that is so powerful it can hardly be overstated, Jesus applies that language to the typically exclusive (religious scholars, Pharisees,etc.), and asserts that the typically excluded (prostitutes, sinners, even Gentiles) will be included before them (Matthew 23:13, Luke 13:28-30, Luke 4:24-27) Clearly Jesus is deconstructing the dominant system of exclusion---not fortifying it.

No wonder Jesus mixes metaphors so freely: kingdom can be useful in confronting the kingdom of Herod and the empire of Caesar, but it also needs to be deconstructed and augmented by other more intimate and less violent metaphors. So Jesus habitually refers to God as Father rather than King. As the famous prodigal son parable profoundly communicates, the rebel and the upright are equally God's children, as (we could extrapolate) are the Jew and the Gentile, the free and the slave, the religious scholar and the prostitute, the female and the male. The Father's deep desire is to bring all the children home into his feast (Luke 15:11-32)."


Sue said...

Wow, this is so good to read. Thanks, Kentster.

That "wailing and gnashing of teeth" verse has been going through my head this morning because someone mentioned it on the Lifestream list. When it gets plucked out of context, it STILL has the potential these days to cause me to ask, "What if I'm wrong? What if God really is a bastard?" Which is crazy, but hey, I'm just being honest, right? :)

I love the context of that verse! Love it! :)

zinger said...

Hey Kent,

Brian has a way of tipping over world views. I liked the way he described kingdom, very upside down.

A kingdom with a king that we call 'papa', who is especially fond of us.

How cool is that!!!!

Doesn't sound much like a bastard Sue:)

Bones said...

Kent, you've set my mind on a train of thought that I can't yet articulate here, but that I'm hopeful will help me to frame some of our current experience as we suddenly find ourselves thrust back into American life and culture longer term. I've toyed with the implications of the new ideas I've been encountering over the past three years, but mostly from afar. Now I'm faced with the reality of the systems on a grand scale, permeating every breath and every moment. The questions I've been asking myself recently are no less real, but the demand for answers suddenly seems urgent, all at the same time that everything has gone topsy-turvy in our lives.

Like I said, I can't really articulate it yet...

Kent said...

Bones, I will pray for you all as you make the transition back into functioning in this culture...but not of.

Sue said...

No, Zinger, not much at all like a bastard, hey :)

Kent said...

Sue and Zinger, I get the sense that the only people that would really feel that way about him are those who love their postitions of power.

Sue said...

I disagree. I think there are plenty of people who are DISempowered who are told that God is a bastard, and who can pick up their Bibles and see that clearly for themselves (seeing you can read almost anything into the Bible) and who have maybe had bastard parents. I think there are plenty of those sorts of people about. The ones in power are the ones who keep reinforcing the message.

Kent said...

I agree with that explaination also Sue