This reflection from a daily meditation that I receive has been sitting in my inbox for quite some time. I come back to it again and again. I think that it has sat in my inbox for a few reasons.
The first reason is that for countless people with whom I have had conversations about this very matter of being received and accepted for who we are as we are is just not the experience of your average Christian. To not put too fine a point on it, Rohr hits the most significant nail right on the head once again.
The second reason I have been thinking about this allot is that I have noticed that a few people who hold some kind of thought leadership position in the Christian movement try to articulate this but it comes across as a concept and an idea as opposed to their own experience out of which they speak.
I’m convinced that the only way we can “teach” this is by giving ourselves to this dangerous reality, then slowing down for long enough to give others who live and work along side us the opportunity to witness to this reality in our life, relationship and work.
I have observed some “leaders” do this and the effect is quite remarkable, life giving, gracious and transforming fruit that lasts.
The ones that are trying to communicate this in the realm of concepts and ideas elicit strong feelings of sadness inside of me, because it appears to me that the struggle they face to move from concept to experience seems so desperate and apparent. Their public attempts at seeking this centred place mirror my own and I hurt for them, praying for the private moments that will hopefully lead to a quiet revolution.
I remember years ago bumping into the teachings of a Christian fellow around the subject of leadership. His formula was “leadership = influence”. It always made me feel uncomfortable. It took me a while to connect with my intuition on the subject. I don’t think that leadership is about influence. If I influence someone, it stands to reason that someone else can come along later and influence them all over again.
It was thinking through this stuff that led me to my own definition of leadership.
Leadership = transformation
It then led me to another phrase I use regularly.
Only transformed people can transform.
My the place of God’s ludicrous, scandalous, gracious utter acceptance transform us all.
One of Jesus’ most revealing one-liners is, “Rejoice only that your name is written in heaven!” (Luke 10:20). If we could fully trust this, it would change our whole life agenda. This discovery will not create overstated or presumptuous individualists, as religion usually fears, but instead makes all posturing and pretending largely unnecessary. Our core anxiety that we are not good enough is resolved from the beginning, and we can stop all our climbing, contending, criticizing, and competing. All “accessorizing” of any small, fragile self henceforth shows itself to be a massive waste of time and energy. Costume jewelry is just that, a small part of an already unnecessary costume.
Most of Christian history has largely put the cart of requirements before the “horsepower” itself, thinking that loads of carts, or the best cart, will eventually produce the horse. It never does. The horsepower is precisely our experience of primal union with God. Find God, the primary source, and the springwater will forever keep flowing (Ezekiel 47:1-12; John 7:38) naturally. Once you know that, the problem of inferiority, unworthiness, or low self-esteem is resolved from the beginning and at the core. You can then spend your time much more positively, marching in the “triumphal parade” (2 Corinthians 2:14), as Paul so playfully calls it.
Thanks Doug Hynd for this grace giving wisdom today.
“Listen patiently and seek the truth which other people’s opinions may contain for you. Avoid hurtful criticism and provocative language. Do not allow the strength of your convictions to betray you into making statements or allegations that are unfair or untrue. Think it possible that you may be mistaken.” (Quaker Book of Discipline)
I thought that for this week’s entry, I would include Richard Rohr’s daily meditation in its entirety. This is one of those “daily” meditations that might take me at least the rest of the week to digest, if not the rest of the year.
The spirituality behind the Twelve-Step Program of Alcoholics Anonymous is a “low Church” approach to evangelization and healing that is probably our only hope in a pluralistic world of over seven billion people. Most of these people are not going to “become Christian” or join our church, which even the Vatican now admits.
Our suffering in developed countries is primarily psychological, relational, and addictive: the suffering of people who are comfortable on the outside but oppressed and empty within. It is a crisis of meaninglessness, which leads us to try to find meaning in possessions, perks, prestige, and power, which are always outside of the self. It doesn’t finally work. So we turn to ingesting food, drink, or drugs, and we become addictive consumers to fill the empty hole within us.
The Twelve-Step Program walks us back out of our addictive society. Like all steps toward truth and Spirit, they also lead downward, which they callsobriety. Bill Wilson and his A.A. movement have shown us that the real power is when we no longer seek, need, or abuse outer power because we have found real power within. They rightly call it our “Higher Power.”
So, here is an email that I wrote to the leaders of our denomination. This email was part of a thread which began when one of our ministers emailed the list moments after the Coalition announced their aid spending cuts during the election blackout.
I have discussed this email with others and many have asked me for a copy. I thought that it therefore might be of assistance to others as well.
Essentially, I am trying to theologise/think about the church’s relationship to government. I hope you find it helpful
I am so late to this party! No one invited me!
There are quite a few issues being discussed, I would like to reflect upon one in particular (I have heaps of homework to do).
Our relationship to government. The idea that we let the government get on with what they do and we as the people of God get on and do what we are supposed to do is a gnostic notion and heretical (not me saying it, rather our Christian history). It is compartmental thinking and betrays the fact that we are Post Enlightenment Modernists before we are Christian. Let me try and explain…
Two levels of examples. Firstly the copious passages in scripture directly discussing and then alluding to judgement of leaders and of course the great judgement passage, the sheep and the goats where the language of the original text makes it absolutely clear that we are not judged as individuals before a private God, rather we are judged as ethnic groups, based on our collective treatment of, systematically listed, those who hunger, those who thirst, those who are imprisoned, ad infinitum.
The second level is that of history. If we were German Christians during the late 1930’s, this would be a radically different conversation (I would hope). I dare say that no one on this list, who attempts to love and serve the Lord Jesus would be quoting Romans 13 and suggesting we pray for our government and hoping they would leave us alone to live lives of peace. Bonhoeffer did a pathetic job of living out the aforementioned Romans passage. Not only did he not pray for the government of the time, rather he actually actively participated in an assassination attempt upon his elected national leader, as well as various other acts of public, illegal opposition to the government of his time.
Now before anyone shouts me down and says this is different, I would suggest we need to have a conversation about the way in which German “Christians” interacted and warred along factional lines, trying to figure out their relationship to government. There are Christians, who like Bonhoeffer make us proud to name ourselves followers of Jesus, standing in the radical opposition tradition of Jesus. Then there are German Christians who remained silent, who did not resist, who lived the rest of their lives in a hell just as terrible as the real one, when the atrocities of the Nazi regime slowly came to light. The same arguments, dynamics and frameworks are at work in our thinking now, discussing some of these issues. It would serve us well if we were to grapple with these real historical examples of people theologising well and poorly, letting their collective experiences speak to our own.
There is another fascinating modern day example. Jesus says “though shalt not kill”, quoting the OT. For 300 odd years, you were not allowed to be part of the church if you were a soldier (true story, check it out). Why? Because they took the teachings of Jesus seriously. Constantine undergoes what many secular and Christian historians alike consider the most dubious and pragmatic of conversions (sound like some political leaders we know?) badda bing, badda bang badda boom, suddenly you find “though shalt not kill” virtually disappears from the teachings of the church for the next several centuries (4th century up until the 18th, except for various fringe elements of the church, Celtic etc) and what you find is that for at least 200 odd years, from 300 (ish) AD to about 500 (ish) AD people actually thought that “take up the sword in the defence of the empire” was a biblical statement.
Fast forward to the modern day and you find the modern Mennonite Tax Resistance movement. These guys are American Mennonites who fastidiously prepare their tax returns. They then ascertain the percentage of government funding the US spends on defence, they subtract that amount from their tax return, forward their return to the IRS with a letter stating that they are witholding the amount the government will spend on defence and instead donate that amount to their denominational aid agency.
Why do they do this?
Because Jesus said “thou shalt not kill”.
Because they take the teachings of Jesus seriously, like the early church did.
They pracitce the teachings of Jesus, because they take him seriously.
Their attempt to follow the teachings of Jesus brings them into conflict with their government.
These guys are not Post Enlightenment Modernists first and then accomodating “Christians” second. These guys have done the hard theological work of figuring out their relationship to government.
How can we believe that we are somehow separate when Jesus comes proclaiming that the “kingdom of God” is at hand? It is a phrase stolen straight out of the Roman Imperial Lexicon. Jesus uses the political language of the day. How dare we, in the modern day, blithely say “Jesus is Lord” without realising that this Gospel statement was actually an Ancient Near Eastern play on words (the phrase was “Caesar is Lord”) which if discovered, was punishable by death?
When the kingdom of God (embodied in the word and framework of Shalom, blessing, wellbeing, peace, dignity, santity of life etc) conflicts with the kingdoms of this earth, we as the people of God go to war. I am proud to be part of this movement. Very few movements have the same passion and zeal for the souls of women and men as do my sisters and brothers in the Vineyard.
One of my frustrations is the fact that souls have a nasty habit of being attached to bodies!
I also love this about the Vineyard. The anger at the devil taking people’s dignity through sickness and disease is also something I value in you my sisters and brothers.
For some reason though, we seem a little confused. If we follow the logic, the image of God (people who benefit from our tax funded aid) suffer the indignity in their bodies, in their communities, in their aspirations for a life with some kind of hope, we should be just as heart broken, angered, and moved to action as we are when we see the devil stealing a soul that does not belong to him, or the health of a persons body and mind.
Our problem is we pull up short because we trip over this government thing. The “excluded middle” (a Paul Heibert phrase and framework) show, a product of our Gnostic heritage.
Every time someone quotes “pray for your government”, I quote Jesus. “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests”…
Was Jesus a daisy eating lefty hippie?
Herod was the Fox. Other parts of the gospel bear that out plainly with little exegetical work necessary. Herod was busy taxing the people that he was supposed to serve in order that he could literally gold plate the temple. (Seriously, it was a project to overlay the temple expansions that he also funded with tax money with gold filagree so that it shone from a distance and people would remember him after his death). People who already were suffering a terrible tax burden imposed upon them by the Romans. “Birds of the air…” The auila that the most honoured legionary would proudly hold aloft at the front of the legion on the move.
Herod the fox takes your money and makes a home for himself. Rome, symbolised by the bird held in the air, they tax you brutally to build their great temples, civic buildings and homes, but the son of man, he doesn’t play that game. He doesn’t take money from you to make a home for himself. He would rather go without, and suffer with you, until things are made as they should be - shalom.
I remember teaching this at Soul Survivor this year. Over 100 kids suddenly realised that Jesus had allot to say about the world and about our politics.
A very disturbed youth pastor makes a statement at the end. “I get worried when you read politics into the teachings of Jesus” he says trying to counter what has happened in the session.
"I get worried when you read them out." was my response.
I think that we need to do allot of thinking about what it means to be the people of God in relation to our government. I think that the bible has much to say about our prophetic role in holding power to account. I think we need to address the gap in our minds created by our excluded middle.
In my name, a man who claims he must govern for me, even if I did not vote for him (I didn’t vote for Rudd either, and I believe a record 450,000 young people eligible to vote consciously refused to enrol most likely as a result of the pathetic level of political conversation) says it’s ok to refuse hospitality to those arriving by boat (see my comments previously regarding what I believe is a clear mandate that has political implications if we are to take the OT seriously), who says its ok to use money to build me a road so I can get across Melbourne 15 minutes quicker rather than to care for our poor suffering global neighbors, who lied to alarm people about the level of government spending (you can tell their lying, not because their lips are moving but because when they try to alarm voters, they use dollar terms and not percentage terms), this guy, and all them guys need to be held to account. As do they all.
As the people of God, following Jesus will bring us into conflict with our government on a regular basis.
I have to go do some homework. Love ya’s!