An Ascent Towards Wisdom

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Peaceableness, justice, compassion, hospitality, simplicity, and community. These virtues are part of the soil of renewal, but there’s one last virtue I left for last, as it just may be what makes these other virtues stand out. Wisdom. I am not talking about high IQ’s, scholasticism, or technological know-how. Instead, what I mean by wisdom is the ability to discern when and where peace, justice, compassion, hospitality, simplicity, and community are most needed and how to go about modeling these virtues without a patriarchal, authoritarian, paternalistic, self-righteous mindset.

The proverbs teach us that wisdom is a gift from God (Prov. 2:6), and I do agree with that, but I also believe that it’s learned by those who are humble and teachable. Wisdom is also known in the proverbs as insight, or understanding (Prov. 3:13, 19), and understanding comes when one is willing to listen and learn in a posture of humility, especially when God speaks, for respect and reverence of God is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7). People who revere God will soon understand justice, compassion, etc.

In the book, Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement, Bouma-Prediger and Walsh state that “wisdom… is the ability to discern compassionate paths of justice and peace” (222). They conclude this because wisdom comes from God, and through wisdom God has created all things, and even worked out redemption for the brokenness of His creation, which as we learned in an earlier post, Jesus is the ultimate picture of compassion and justice wrapped up into one.

It’s God’s wisdom which is referred to as the master workman of creation (Prov. 8:30), and it was this same craftsman that saw the path towards renewal for creation as sacrificial and costly, something only His wisdom could know and understand. It’s God’s wisdom that was patient enough to listen to and know the deep recesses of the human heart and the fragmented realities of the earth, and it’s His wisdom that offers paths back towards God after we have burned all of our supposed bridges.

It is at this starting point that one can begin to possess the ability to be for all of creation in the fullest sense. Wisdom is needed to live an alternative life in the midst of a culture that rarely considers healthy limits. Wisdom is needed to stand against habits that have been acceptable to society, but destructive to the earth and humans. Wisdom is needed to navigate right living in the midst of competing philosophies and conflicting interests. It will also be wisdom that holds back unhelpful anger for those who are destructive towards universal peace and flourishing.

What wisdom can offer leaders, policy makers, pastors, professors, bosses, and parents, is how to think about and plan for what’s best not just for today or tomorrow, but what’s best for the next seven generations. Considering prosperity for the long-haul, even if we are not going to be immediately benefited by our decisions, is birthed out of wisdom, not folly.

We need more wise stewards of the earth and of people. We need an awakening of wise women and men who critically think through the issues of our day, and live in light of the next seven generations. Wisdom gives us holy imaginations to consider what a city or neighborhood could look like if we took seriously the story we are called to live in; God’s story of redemption and renewal, for humans and for the whole earth. We need mothers and fathers who are wise, who can offer themselves to the fatherless and the motherless and be givers not takers.

Dr. Michael Goheen, a wise and godly professor from Vancouver, Canada, comprised an unpublished list (posted below which I adapted from a personal lecture/powerpoint) of what a community of faith could look like if it took seriously it’s call to live in light of God’s redemptive and renewing narrative. I find this a fitting way to wrap up this series of posts about church renewal with an imagination of what kingdom life could look like on earth, as it is in heaven:

What if the church was known as…
– a community of self-control and marital fidelity in a world saturated by sex.

– a community of generosity and “enough” in world of consumption.

– a community of forgiveness in a world of hatred, competition, grudges, and revenge.

– a community of thankfulness in a world of entitlement.

– a community of God-worship in a world of narcissism.

– a community of sacrificial love in a world of selfishness and self-gratification.

– a community of wisdom in a world of proliferating knowledge and information technology.

– a community of humility in a world of arrogant self-interest.

– a community of patience in a world of immediate gratification.

– a community of compassion in a world numbed by overexposure to violence, tragedy and abuse.

– a community that uses language positively in a world of destructive communication.

– a community of joy in a world dominated by a frantic and hedonistic pursuit of pleasure.
- a community of depth in a culture of superficiality.

– a community of cheerful seriousness in a culture of triviality.

– a community committed to the important issues of our globe in a culture of apathy and indifference.

– a community of selflessness in a culture of self-absorption and entitlement.

– a community of joyful purpose in a culture “amusing ourselves to death.”

– a community of ecological and economic stewardship in a world that has been raped ecologically and economically.

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The Ethos of Community

Renewal takes a tribe, or in modern day terms, a community. Now this is another a loaded word! The first question that comes to mind when I hear the word community is, “What in the world do you mean when you say ‘community’?” Everyone has a different idea of what it is, and for every idea of what community is, there are hundreds of different ways that each idea could be lived out.

So I am not going to give my opinion of what community is supposed to look like; that task is impossible because of all the various contexts and cultures that exist. What I hope to do though, is to paint a mental ethos of community and lay a foundation of some of the earmarks of healthy communities.

Jean Vanier, a Catholic philosopher turned theologian, in 1964 founded a community called L’Arche in France. L’Arche communities are intentional places of living where those with intellectual disabilities are able to have a safe place to live and share life with others who have intellectual disabilities as well as those who do not.

A core ethos of L’Arche communities is for each community to display the “reality that persons with intellectual disabilities possess inherent qualities of welcome, wonderment, spirituality, and friendship.” They desire to explicitly display “the dignity of every human being by building inclusive communities of faith and friendship where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together.” (see http://www.larcheusa.org/)

So as to not reinvent the wheel, I want to use the inherent qualities of L’Arche values as a means to lay a foundation or a framework for healthy communities, which I believe is a vital element of church renewal.

Welcome: an instance or manner of greeting someone with pleasure and approval.

Greeting someone with love and warmth is an acquired gift, especially when we’re greeting someone who is radically different than we are, and possibly offensive in the way they live. Community takes a welcoming spirit, or maybe as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, a spirit of hospitality. I was a Young Life leader for over a decade, and I have been associated with Young Life at an intimate level since 1994.

Young Life leaders (at least in my area in Phoenix) are some of the best “welcomers” I know. The spirit that Young Life exudes to kids in jr. and sr. high is one that is opposite of our everyday culture. Mainstream culture (Christian and non-Christian) typically says, “You can belong to our group once you behave a certain way and believe what we believe.” Young Life flips that cultural script and says, “You belong with us regardless of your behavior and beliefs.” This is risky business, but I believe it’s the right kind of business to be about.

For community to work and be healthy, it must start with a welcoming spirit that says, “You belong here, even though there are big differences between us.” Belonging precedes behavior and belief. This world view is at the heart of community.

Wonderment: a state of awed admiration or respect.

In the Christian, Judaic, and Sufi Islam world views, all humans have inherent value and worth because of the belief that we are all created in God’s image, which was later coined in it’s Latin form as the “Imago Dei.” If this doctrine were to be properly understood and fully believed, self-righteousness, biases, judgements, and racism would eventually fade away, and we will begin celebrating the beauty of our differences, rather than fighting about them.

Being thrilled about the gifts we bring to one another and respecting and valuing the differences of ourselves and other people is an essential element of healthy community. It is easy for us to be in a state of judgement and criticalness of each other, but to begin to be awed and amazed at the uniqueness and diversity of humanity is a part of every thriving community.

Wonderment ought to follow welcoming, yet this is a virtue that is mostly only attained after the church is caught up into the heavenly dimensions of the eucharistic life, which is the regaining of the mystery and the divine nature of the Lord’s table, and learning to see all of life as a liturgy of worship to God.

Spirituality: matters concerning the human soul (heart, mind).

To respect and admire someone and not care about the deeper parts of their heart and mind (the soul), are to not fully love and respect someone. As much as we can talk about being a community of welcoming and wonderment, we must not neglect being a community who cares for souls. With that said, welcoming people and finding wonder in our diversity is not an invitation to turn a blind eye to unhealthy living and destructive behavior. Much abuse is birthed inside the middle of tight knit communities, as the desire of a euphoric community becomes more important than individual human dignity.

In caring for the spirituality of a person and a community, we will be able to explore the deep parts of our hearts and minds and be changed in the midst of a welcoming community of wonder. It is in this context where behaviors are not coerced to get in proper formation, but challenged to promote peace and welfare for the individual and the whole. Caring for someone’s healing (body and soul) begins to be a natural corrective part of healthy communities, which will be able to offer space to those who need it. This type of community will respect boundaries, honors bodies and souls, and have self-respect and sincerity towards others.

Healthy communities labor towards minds being renewed, which leads to destructive habits and thoughts being challenged in love, and proper accountability that seeks the welfare of individual bodies and souls, as well as the corporate body. This might be the hardest value to embody in community, but we must labor towards this end, as spiritual realities always affect material realities.

As one is continually drawn into the presence of God on earth, it is clear to see that there is a spirit at work in this world other than the Spirit of God. It is a dark spirit that seeks to destroy body and soul (individually and communally). It hates diversity and destroys all creativity in community. It is a perverted spirit that seeks to twist and distort love, and it only has the the power to usurp, not to build up. This must be recognized in the spirit realm and addressed in community as the spirituality of individuals and the community is shaped.

Friendship: a relationship of mutual affection between two or more people.

There are many forms of friendship that we could talk about, but at the most basic level, I take friendship to be a place where relationships are rooted, meaning, they do not run away after conflict and disappointments ensue. In our culture, where cars can take us far away from our neighborhoods and friendships, we have lost the sense of being rooted, and “sticking it out” with friends when trials come has not been a popular communal value among many believers.

In the local church context, it is easy with the advent of cars to find a new church community when friends and leaders stop giving us what we want, or stop serving our needs, seen only through the lens of what’s best for me. Friendship inside neighborhoods and communities seem to be difficult as well, since walking to stores and appointments isn’t part of our everyday culture. We get into our hollow metal shells and drive past neighbors daily, and most of our friends live a cars drive away.

A lack of rootedness in a particular place has made many friendships a shallow, social media type friendship that can cut you off if you offend, rather than a friendship that stays when things blow up. Friendship in healthy communities ought to include affection, sympathy, empathy, honesty, selflessness, mutual submission, compassion, confrontation, and the ability to royally “blow it” without losing the friendship. Friendships give, receive, and protect.

A lack of friendship may just kill community. When we love the idea of community more than we love people and desire true friendship, community will not thrive. Many seek community because of the good feeling they have in the beginning and the comforts than can be experienced. But for those who love the idea of community more than people, they will quickly run from community when the aura or people within the community stop offering what was desired. Love people more than your idea of community.

I believe church renewal depends on healthy expressions of communities in particular places and neighborhoods. I believe church renewal is dependent on new forms of community rising up being called “the church”. I believe church renewal will birth many forms of organic communities that embody the L’Arche values of community, that break bread together, regularly meet and gather and care for each other’s bodies and souls, and are a place of intimacy within the eucharistic life.

This is how fabrics of care can be created inside blighted hoods or disconnected suburbs, as neighbors form communities to band together to care for one another and for the needs of the under-served. Renewal happens holistically and organically, and until people know that there is a community to belong to, programs and organizations will not be able to have a sustainable impact.

I believe many Christ followers today are experiencing a “disorienting” call to step out of their current church expression and into something much more authentic and mysterious. And within this disorienting call, many of us struggle because we know of no other way to “do” or “be” church besides the modern, institutional approach. In addition, new believers are not embracing the formal way of “doing” church because in many ways it conflicts with their values, and they too are being called into something much more authentic and mysterious. I believe that new expressions of these types of ancient communities will lead the way in church renewal in the 21st century, as families, homes, businesses, and cities of those desiring to regain the life of the kingdom are transformed, and organic expressions of church communities become more of a norm.

I’m thankful for communities such as L’Arche, and leaders such as Jean Vanier, who have humbly and lovingly stepped out of the norm and allowed new forms of community to critique our old forms, and energize us to regain a new/old and prophetic way to live together.

The Power of the Simple Life

Pope Innocent III (1161-1216) is remembered for being one of the most powerful and influential Pope’s in Catholic church history, but he is also known for promoting and organizing crusades against Muslim rulers in Spain and in the Holy Land, and against heretics in southern France. This is not a great feat to be known for, but something about this Pope goes mostly unspoken of, is that he once had a vision.

During a meeting Pope Innocent III had with John Bernadone, he recounted this vision where the Lateran basilica (a basilica dedicated to St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist) was almost ready to fall down. It is then that he saw this little poor man, small and scorned, who was holding up the church with his own back bent underneath it, so that it would not fall. “I’m sure,” said Pope Innocent III, “he is the one who will hold up Christ’s Church by what he does and what he teaches.”

This little man, dressed in rags, who lived a simple life, was the model of reform Christ had for His church in the 13th century, who was also known as St. Francis of Assisi. This simple man who lived a very simple and unassuming life style, established the Order of Friar’s Minor, the women’s Order of St. Clare, and the 3rd Order of Saint Francis for men and women who weren’t able to live lives of being itinerant preachers, which was later followed by the Poor Clares. Many of those names might not mean much to most of our ears, but what all these orders represented were safe havens for the poor and for those who desired to care for the poor. This was before social services was popular and goodwill was highly dependent up on the goodwill of neighbors. St Francis was a good neighbor. All of these orders serve Christ’s body in simple ways, devoting their lives to serving the poor, the sick, and the dying.

Now fast forward with me over 700 years, and meet a women named Agnes Bojaxhiu, who joined a Catholic order for women that was birthed because of the simple work St. Francis committed himself to. In 1928 Agnes left her home at the age of 18, and joined the Sisters of Loreto, never again to see her mother or sisters.

Agnes was a teacher, and a good one at that, but she became more and more disturbed by the poverty that she experienced in her new home town. When a famine came to her city, death and misery followed, and violence broke out between Hindu’s and Muslim’s, leaving her city destitute, along with the people who lived there. This was the beginning of her next “calling within a call” to live simply, care for the sick, feed the poor, and befriend the dying as they await their last breath. All this was done with simple, unassuming means, and in the name of Christ.

Years later, and throughout more than 120 countries, her work is living and active, and lives beyond her life. Agnes is also known as Mother Teresa, who died in 1997, and leaves a legacy of simplicity, with a passion to be Christ to the vulnerable, the sick, and the marginalized. Mother Teresa inspires us all to find a way to translate our spiritual beliefs into action in the world.

As I remember the lives of John Bernadone and Agnes Bojaxhiu, I am left with ambiguity, and I question the world view that has been erected in Western Christendom, where the victorious and prosperous church is given more prestige than the poor and suffering church; where Christian ministry is often a movement toward relevance, popularity, social acceptance, and power; where numeric growth is more celebrated than sacrificial living and solidarity with the poor.

Yes, Christian ministry is always wrapped in good deeds and god intentions, but the glamour of ministry and the lure of success seems to get more attention than the Catholic Cherokee Hermit-ess Midwife who most will never know, but lives simply and profoundly influences many people on the margins of society. These stories make us remember that more is often done with less. Bigger growth happens as we become smaller. More radical change happens when we work with less, and have less to distract us. But this is not in our DNA, and we are left asking the question, “How has one small poor man, and one small poor woman accomplished so much?”

The “Christian” answer is “By the power of God, of course,” but God’s power empowered this man and this woman to live a simple, unassuming life, stripped of ego and desire for worldly gain, with a posture of humility and listening as they served others.

Simplicity. Through a very brief observation of two very popular Catholic saints whose legacy’s go far beyond their lives lived on earth, we learn that simplicity of life is a powerful tool in the hand of God to bring about great change in any generation. Names of men and women who had great power but used it for sordid gain, are men and women who you and I have likely never heard of. But saints who have lived simple lives, serving others and caring not about material gain, are known and spoken of worldwide as a model of Christ-likeness.

Let me be clear, I am not advocating a movement towards poverty, and I’m aware that some will only see that. What I am advocating for is a life that is committed to living simply in the midst of so much ‘stuff.’ The age of global advancement is among us with opportunities of great wealth and power, as well as the technology age that gives us access to so much information and opportunities to fill our time in front of a cyber-world-lit-screen.

Consumption is over the top in the West. The good economics of Capitalism has been exploited and used for selfish and evil purposes with seemingly no boundaries. In this unchecked system, life has become complicated and the power and wealth that was given to bless, has been turned inward. Church growth has been more focused on building a healthy budget, acquiring the right property, in the right neighborhood, with the right building space to set one church up for more growth of “butts in seats,” since the business model trumps the Jesus model (no pun intended). I see the simple life as a means for Christ to be truly seen and known in an increasingly self-centered, complex, consumeristic church life.

For renewal to be a reality in the midst of out-of-control globalization, lives of simplicity must rise up all over the world. In our churches, there must be those who commit to living simply; those who are committed to slow and patient discipleship that helps lead and develop men and women to be a holistically alternative community within the machine of global advancement; those who are stepping out of the mainstream view of success, advancement, consumption, and individuality; those who live with less food, less trinkets, consume less resources; those who take seriously Jesus’ call to follow him.

In an excerpt from “Three Temptations of a Christian Leader,” Henri Nouwen prophetically states: “Jesus asks us to move from concern for relevance to a life of prayer, from worries about popularity to communal and mutual ministry, and from a leadership built on power to a leadership in which we critically discern where God is leading us and our people… The leader of the future will be one who dares to claim his irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation that allows him or her to enter into a deeper solidarity with the anguish underlying all the glitter of success and bring the light of Jesus there.

 

We must challenge our Western notion of what it looks like to be “leaders.” To follow Jesus in a culture committed to over-consumption, individualism, financial success, and “fast” everything, I believe it’s imperative for the simple life to be mainstream again, as people begin planting roots in particular neighborhoods, living radically different lives that are alternative to the Western story, and more in line with God’s story.

This simplicity must penetrate the church systems and forms that arise in this next era of church planting, business development, and city engagement. The simple life has a powerfully corrective voice to those who only have one eye open to the problem of consumerism, materialism, and globalization. Jesus counter acts oppressive systems through small, simple acts of small, simple people.

This section is best summed up by the words of Tolkien via Gandalf, as he responds in Rivendale to Lorien’s question, “Why the halfling?” for the journey with the Dwarves:

“Saruman believes that it is only great power that can hold evil in check. But that is not what I have found. I have found it is the small things… everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keeps the darkness at bay. Simple acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I’m afraid and he gives me courage” (From the motion picture, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”).

Hospitality and the Social Gospel

The last few post I’ve written have been building a path towards understanding what kind of people we must be for renewal to be a reality in the Western church. I want to remind us of the two borders that are holding the contents of our trail: peaceableness and justice. These are the foundational elements that help us structure our path so that it isn’t just a bunch of loose gravel being laid down with no purpose or order. With those as our outside borders, we can continue unpacking the contents that help make up the rock we are laying to complete our path, which has led us to the virtue of hospitality.

When some of us think of hospitality, the phrase “entertaining angels” comes to mind. Believe it or not, this idiom comes from the Bible. The book entitled Hebrews in the Bible says this in chapter 13, verse 2: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Entertaining angels, hospitality, can refer to the practice of treating all guests, whether they’re sojourners, kings, or common folk, as if they were visiting angels.

There is a movie that was made about Dorothy Day in 1996 called “Entertaining Angels.” Day was a Catholic social activist starting in the early 1930’s, and was the founder of the Catholic Worker movement, which began by Day (also a journalist) starting a newspaper called Catholic Worker. In the first issue, it was clear that the Catholic Workers chief aim was to get the word out that the Catholic church was there to help those who have suffered the most in the heart of the Great Depression. A famous line from the first issue by Day says this: “…the Catholic Church has a social program… there are men of God who are working not only for their spiritual but for their material welfare.”

This movement has been tagged in a negative way as a “social gospel,” meaning that they were “Christians” wanting to help the suffering without caring for their souls (sharing the gospel with them). I am not going to get into the theology of that argument for now, but I do want to use this analogy to build a case for hospitality.

When people seek to care socially for a stranger who is weak, suffering, poor, hungry, sick, or in some other kind of great need, we ought to be slow to write them off as merely activists with no care for souls. Scripture has many calls for hospitality that has been neglected by a vast majority of Christians who are too worried about being labeled a “social-gospel Christian.” May we be reminded briefly of our biblical call to social action, and that the gospel is thoroughly social and spiritual at the same time:

“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” Hebrews 13:3.

“Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” Galatians 2:10.

“Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” Romans 12:13.

“Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” 1 Peter 4:9.

“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’” Matthew 25:37-40.

We could go on and speak of Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan, the rich man giving all he has to the poor, and on and on. Entertaining angels, hospitality, is meeting physical needs. When you see a stranger, welcome her in; clothe him, feed her, help them find shelter. Many people take this call to hospitality and put their own spin on it, and they say, “I only help those who want help,” or “It’s not right helping someone if they are going to take advantage of the system,” or “I will only help them if they’re willing to listen to me preach the gospel to them.”

Let me be clear, the gospel is word ‘and’ deed. The gospel is never detached from doing justice ‘and’ preaching grace. If we are to help a stranger, we do not have to try and cram the gospel into their brains, for the gospel is also seen and heard in our deeds.

As far as the concern of giving to those who deserve it, Jesus is clear that we are to give to strangers often, even before we learn if they are “worthy” of our help. This passage from Matthew 25 is clear that it’s the stranger that we are called to be hospitable to, because Christ is present in the un-welcomed “alien” and the naked stranger.

But still, hospitality is a very controversial endeavor. How far do we go to help the stranger? When does the stranger stop being a stranger and become someone who is known? After the first time you help them? Second time? What makes a stranger “worthy” of our help? Is there a litmus test to find out? Does giving to someone who is not “worthy” of help make someone a social-gospelist, on the verge of breaking down the Capitalistic structure of our nation? Many Christians don’t agree on what hospitality is, even though Scripture, throughout the Old and the New Testament is very clear.

I didn’t site any Old Testament references above, but it is filled with commands for Israel to display the heart and character of God through being especially hospitable to widows, orphans, and aliens. In the New Testament, Jesus modeled hospitality to a ragamuffin band of social outcasts, spiritual rejects, and political losers. Jesus showed hospitality to all of us by entering into our vulnerability and suffering and giving us an invitation to feast at his table. He, a God who knows us, came close to us in our despair, and made Himself knowable, touchable, and shared His resources when we were totally unworthy candidates, who selfishly took advantage of the system.

The late Henri Nouwen says that hospitality is welcoming the stranger and allowing him to “lay aside his strangeness and become a friend… That’s what true hospitality is all about, to offer a safe place, where the stranger can become a friend.” Reaching Out, 66.

Hospitality allows one to belong before they believe or behave properly. In our religious systems we often require right belief and behavior before someone is ‘allowed’ to belong. This is not God’s idea, but man’s. When we were strangers and alienated from God, Christ came near and was hospitable to us. Before we believed in Him or behaved properly, He showed us that we belong with Him. God created space for us to belong with Him; that’s divine hospitality, and church renewal depends, in part, on the hospitality of the citizens of heaven. Belonging precedes “right” belief or “proper” behavior.

We need more Catholic Worker type movements within our churches. We need more Dorothy Day’s willing to be persecuted and called social-gospelists because they are passionate about being hospitable to those suffering, even unworthy sufferers, or maybe angels who are looking to be entertained.

The Beautiful Disruption of Peace

Peace. What do you think of when you hear this word? It’s a loaded word, full of millions of ideas about what it is, what it looks like, and how it would work in a world full of division, dis-integration. There’s no sugar-coating one could do to cover up the lack of peace that we have on earth. Sure, we could speak of all the good, beauty, love, and sacrifice that exists and has been demonstrated, but just as all the hate can’t cover up the goodness, so all the goodness can’t cover up all the hate. This is true for the Church as well, and this is where my heart breaks and feels the tension of a people who have been reconciled to God, but we can’t figure out how to be reconciled to one another. I know one major reason is because we all have a different idea of peace, which actually effects how we see justice at work.

We can’t minimize our situation, no matter how painful it is, in an effort to try and make our lives feel better. We are dis-integrated and dis-membered. Maybe one of the only ways forward at this point is to re-integrate and re-member (or in many instances, to integrate and member for the first time). I hope to speak of peace in such a way that helps you long to be re-integrated and re-membered to your brothers and sisters whom you’ve been dis-integrated and dis-membered from.

In the narrative of Scripture, the prophet Isaiah refers to the Messiah (the promised redeemer) to be born in years to come, calling him, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:6).

Later on, the Apostle Paul refers to Jesus as being “our peace.”

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace… (Ephesians 2:13-15)

Jesus is our peace, Paul says. He’s the one who broke down the wall of division between Jews and Gentiles by becoming the curse of mankind and absorbing the wickedness of humanity into himself. That’s why his death is so important, and powerful. His death is not some sick celebration of sadistic people who glory in pain and suffering. His death is a celebration because it is God himself (John 1:1), who became human, to put to death the consequence and finality of death and wickedness. In his death, all the evil and wickedness on earth now has a chance to be made into life-giving goodness. This is also why his resurrection means so much. In his resurrection, we see not only a God who has power over wickedness and death, but a God who invites us into his resurrected life, indeed to be the ones who walk out of the tombs and be Christ to one another.

But Jesus also says something in Luke 12 that stirs the pot and moves us into more questions regrading peace: Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Luke 12:51).

What’s Jesus doing here? Is he contradicting himself? I thought one of His names was “Prince of Peace”? Jesus, the Prince of Peace, the One who often said, “Peace be with you,” knows that for true peace to be made in a world full of dis-integration and dis-memberment, there must be a stirring, a shaking of the pot, a realization that we are not alright and all right. Peace then sometimes entails bringing to light that which others want to corruptly keep hidden… this will cause division and anger, but peace will prevail, eventually, even if in death. In many cases the death that must take place among those who are Jesus’ people, is the death of pride, of the desire to self-protect and be right, of the desire to payback and be with only those who think and act similar.

Maybe an understanding of shalom will help in this discussion. Shalom is a Hebrew word that has been translated in English as the word peace. But shalom is a loaded word in the Hebrew language. Shalom does mean peace, but it means more than that. It means peace with justice, universal peace, flourishing of all creation, the way things are supposed to be. So when we speak of peace, we could think, “the way things are supposed to be.” This is how Cornelius Plantinga Jr. puts it. He calls sin a perversion against God’s gracious plan, which is “not the way it’s supposed to be.”

Shalom was seen in the Garden of Eden, and sin “vandalized” shalom, says Plantinga. On this side of the Garden, maybe shalom is one of those concepts that we learn what it means more by seeing/realizing the absence of it. Where shalom is absent, we begin to grieve the way things were supposed to be, and then maybe we receive a new set of lenses with which to view and interpret life because of that experience. This is why the disruption must take place for peace to become real in the hearts of God’s people. To be re-integrated or re-membered to people you don’t think you belong to or are separate from, means we need to be re-minded that things are not the way they’re supposed to be, and in this re-membering, our hearts would break that we have been the ones who’ve contributed to the dis-integration of our own people.

Being a presence of peace when things are chaotic and full of injustices, will always disturb first. It’s like turning on really bright lights in a dark room when people are sleeping or just waking up; angry shouts are hurled at the one who turned the lights on. “Turn them off!” as a pillow or a shoe flies across the room at the one who turned the lights on. And if that person keeps the light on, you are sure that there will be a confrontation. The sleeping ones who’ve been awakened will often get out of bed and turn the lights back off. Now what to do? Do you take the risk and turn the lights back on, or do you get the point and move on? I’m not here to answer specifics as to what to do, but I do know a stirring must take place for peace to be real.

The late Martin Luther King Jr. is famous for his peaceful protests amongst his enemies. In one of his essays, “Non-violoence: The Only Road to Freedom,” King says that the way to shalom “will be accomplished by persons who have the courage to put an end to suffering by willingly suffering themselves rather than inflict suffering on others.” This is one way of turning on the lights. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus says, “for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). In the book Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement, Brian Walsh and Steven Bouma-Prediger say this about contentiousness (which is the opposite of peaceableness): “Like a parasite living on a host, contentiousness feeds on rage and rancor, antipathy and animosity, to fan the fire of discord and accelerate the spiral of violence.” (214).

To confront the lack of peace in this world takes courageous sacrifice, because where it is absent, there will be hostility towards those who want to make it present. So this is where we are at. We have a church filled with different ideologies, different commitments, and allegiances, and different passion that move us and motivate towards the idea of peace we have been taught to seek. I hope in reading this, you may be re-centered to the peace God longs for his people, peace that puts nothing above Christ, peace that seeks first the Kingdom of God over every other kingdom that presents itself as the answer to peace. I hope that you may be stirred to confess kingdoms you’ve loved more than God’s Kingdom and begin seeing your call as a child of God as a call to be a peacemaker, a reconciler, a re-memberer. Allegiance to a way of life different than that of God’s way of life in his kingdom will not suffice, and will never see peace.

And may this work begin within the household of God so our witness of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection be proclaimed without hypocrisy and with great love, a great love that loves all the peoples of all the nations and not just the peoples of our of own nation. This is the work of peace that will change us, radically, and I warn you, if you like your life, this will be a dangerous work, for it will not leave you as you are, and life as you know it will be disrupted, but praise be to God, for it will be for the sake of our God and our Christ being known in the world as a God of peace who radically loves and longs to restore shalom, life the way it’s supposed. Life where all men and women are seen and valued as equals.

This will certainly take death if it is to come to pass.

Christian Nationalism

The early Church began in the midst of a powerful Roman empire that had no patience for any sect, religious group, or leader that challenged the “lordship” of Caesar. Before Jesus came on to the historical scene, there had been many self-proclaimed “Jewish messiahs” who marched into Jerusalem trying to fulfill prophecy, gain a following, and essentially over throw the Roman oppressors who were thought to be the final evil empire before God would deliver Israel. After Jesus came on the scene, performed many miracles, and was eventually crucified, the Jews (and the romans in the region) thought that His “small” following would come to an end. 

When it did not end, but instead grew in number and in power, the Roman government eventually sought to declare the Church as a ‘heranos,’ or in English, a ‘private religious gathering’ rather than an ‘ekklesia,’ or a ‘public gathering’ that declared public truth (Light to the Nations, 180-181). The Romans wanted the empire to come first, and the new Christ followers knew that no nation could stand before their allegiance to the Kingdom of God. 

As we from early Church writings, they rejected this status and chose civil disobedience against the Empire, and they were eventually persecuted because of it, as they claimed to be “Kingdom citizens” over and above being “Roman citizens”. They called themselves the “ekklesia,” a public gathering in the public marketplace that declared a public (universal) truth that Jesus was Lord, not Ceasar. They had a higher standard of love and sacrifice to live by that the Empire didn’t share, nor honor. So after a few centuries of brutal persecution, the Church’s self-proclaimed name, “ekklesia,” became acceptable, prominent, and nationalized at the time of Constantine (the beginning of Christendom early 300’s AD). 

This is the beginning of a “Christian” Empire, one that once again placed the importance of allegiance to the Empire over and above allegiance to the Kingdom of God. Will your allegiance for the Empire shape your vision and action, or will you seek first God’s Kingdom, even if it means that you must not be completely faithful to protecting the Empire and its comforts? Herein lies the struggle and tension of nationalistic Christianity. Some would say it is no Christianity at all.

Dominant Culture, Love, and the Margins 

It is often in the place of the dominant culture where freedom is most fully experienced. I know this may still be surprising for some, but in America, where we were established on the freedom and the right to pursue happiness, the freedom that was dreamt of, only to became a regular reality for those who have access, or for those of whom access was created for; and let’s be honest and clear… access was not created for all. And yet, there is a voice, a faint one, from the margins, of the lonely, tired, forgotten ones, crying out, “Love me…Notice my pain…Don’t ignore my story because I’m different than you.”

For those without access, alternative social communities had to be formed to give voice to the voiceless and powerless, to fight for the rights and freedoms that are experienced by the dominant culture, of which are usually the ones creating more boundaries around their freedom, in fear of losing power, prestige, or possession. Walter Brueggemann calls this the “religion of static triumphalism and the politics of oppression and exploitation” The Prophetic Imagination, 17.

The king (or the dominant culture), usually, does not want a “free” god who is unpredictable. Rather, the king wants a god he can control, because if god would ever disagree with his rule, he can persuade and manipulate him to do as he wishes. The result is a complete conceived god who is not free in the sense of being accessible to all. The god of the “royal consciousness” is absent to the minority, the marginalized, the immigrant, the refugee. We expect this to happen within structures and systems where a Christian worldview isn’t the prevailing belief, but when this “royal consciousness” resides within the Church, among God’s kin, His children, we begin to have some confusion within the family!

Again, I want to remind us that God is radically committed to giving access to those who have none (i.e. while we were his enemies, Christ died for us “so that” we could have access, so we could be included… to live!). When God’s freedom is limited inside political/spiritual feudal-type systems, especially these systems created from within the household of God, one could imagine the disconnect many propels have with Christians closing doors to those on the margins.

The Creator God, at least the one I have come know from the biblical narrative, is always moving to the margins, exploiting those who oppress the margins, bringing alternative ways of living for those on the margins, and making access for those on the margins to be included, to have space to belong. Indeed, it is from the margins that the thrones of false kings are overturned, and where the true King arises.

One could argue that much of the Old Testament is filled with God focusing “only” on the Israelites, making it about this “one” people. But to see this would be to neglect the thrust, or what some scholars would call, “the arc of the narrative of scripture.” The arc of the narrative of the Old Testament is pointing to “one” people who will represent the “many,” which will eventually, point towards one person from that one people group, who would make access for all peoples. The goal is to re-integrate what has been did-integrated. 

From Exodus (22:21-22), to Psalm (86:9), to Isaiah (Is. 60:3-4), to Malachi (Mal. 1:11), and all scattered in between, we read of God’s heart to welcome ALL the nations, all kinds of diverse people groups, to make room for the sojourners, the poor, or those running for their lives (Deut. 4:41-43). God’s heart has always been to unite the nations, that His name would be great among them, and a family reunion would once again be realized by kin from across the globe.

And for “such a time as this,” in a day where there’s a plethora of corrupt leaders that are driving out humans from their land, keeping vulnerable people out of their land, evil gangs terrorizing, promising to slaughter and humiliate whoever stands against them, nations making profit off the poor, and powerful stakeholders trying to control world destiny, families are being displaced, seeking refuge and security, landing in cities all over the world. A very small percentage of these families are landing in the U.S., in a city near you. Even among those who are fleeing, there some wolves (real or perceived), pretending to be poor sheep running for their lives, only to infiltrate other nations to poison them. Yet, there is still a narrative arc that points towards love, acceptance, access, and belonging for those who are part of the household of God. It is terribly dangerous to live out of a Christian worldview, and sadly, few Christians are living into this. Many claim this worldview as their own, yet deny it with their lifestyle. 

I feel we’ve protected ourselves from the suffering of these suffering sojourners and marginalized through policy, fear of terrorism, nationalism, and “justified” prejudice. As a nation, I can believe how we could feel protective and not intimately join in the suffering of the plight of brothers and sisters from our nations and other nations. I get it. It seems we have a lot to lose in America. Freedom is under attack in new ways, threats that we’ve never faced are now before us, the economy is fragile, and the nation is divided.

It is a different way of live within the household of God. Our leader is rich, full of resources, is not trapped by geographic boundaries, is not motivated by fear, does not see death as losing, isn’t represented by one church or logo, and love and belonging are his weapons of choice, especially love and belonging for the widow, the orphan, the homeless, the poor, the sojourner. Sadly, within the household of God, this worldview is embraced in word and denied in action. We spend a lot of time talking about loving our neighbors in crisis, and little time living it out. 

We’ve allowed the culture of our day to rub off on us so much that the fear of loss, self-protection, and discomfort from suffering has handcuffed us. I know this is not true for everyone in the house, but when the vast majority of the family members aren’t getting it, when is the proper time to call this a crisis of faith? The family is in critical condition and in need of resuscitation. We’ve lost sight of our first love, and new gods have stolen our hearts and we don’t believe it when people tell us so. The “royal consciousness” of God’s people has been high-jacked by a lower consciousness that sees self-preservation as more important than sacrificial-love. 

God creates access for all. This is what He does, and his household does the same. The fullness of God’s access is best seen through the lens of Jesus. The God-man, coming to remove the barriers we’ve made to access God, became human. Think on that for a moment, the God of perfect glory stepped in to the margins by becoming human. He was born to Mary, an unmarried teen mom, who soon after her birth became a refugee in Egypt. When it was safe to return home, He grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, in a lower socioeconomic neighborhood. He never went to formal school, worked His father’s trade as a mason/carpenter, promising never to amount to much, except to be an honest tradesman. 

He ended up leaving the business, had no place to call home, and lived off the generosity of others, calling a ragamuffin group of shady characters full of pride and anger to follow him. He brought worth and value to the women who followed him and included them in his work which was risky, since he was single, right? He touched the untouchable leper and the outcasted bleeding woman, slowed down long enough to listen to the improper yelling blind man and offer him what he needed, stayed in the home of a single Samaritan woman who got around with the fellas, and welcomed the tears and treasures of prostitutes to be poured over his body, so that he might be anointed to die the next day on a tree that represents a cursed man, dying for a cursed people who cursed the Him, only to be marched outside the gates, in the margins, outside the city center, to be crucified and left to die.

Then he went to the most ultimate marginal place, death. Jesus went there too, only to convert the tomb into a womb, thus giving life, value, worth, dignity, and access to not just those on the margins, but those all the way to the palace too!

God went to the margins, because it’s there where everyone has access. The rich can go serve the poor, or fancy their favorite spot whenever they like. The poor do not have the same access to the rich man’s part of town and favorite places, nor the palace. If the God-man was born in a castle, only the powerful and privileged would have access to Him, but thanks be to God, He went to the margins, became a part of the margins, and invites us in our new life to follow Him into the margins. This is the Creator God I’ve come to know, and it’s why I’m persistently writing about and living and moving into the margins of our culture.

We present an inaccessible God when do not stand and fight for the suffering sojourners, or fight for policies that continue to estrange them and strip them of resources and protection. The same is true when we look past them and forget about them and do not make space for them in our lives. When we neglect to see their plight and ignore their cries, we represent to them a God who does not hear and who is not concerned with lower-level dwellers who aren’t citizens of America. We don’t hesitate to call them illegals or terrorists or thugs, and we don’t slow down long enough to acknowledge their stories, validate their pain, and call out the injustice of the home situation that has left them desperate. 

This is a huge problem with in the household of God. My prayer is that Jesus’ people would be able to see this same God that moved to the margins and be challenged to move to the margins as well, however God might challenge them. I pray that people within the household of God would prophetically create alternative social communities for the forgotten ones to belong and be willing to stand with them regardless of the social pressure not to.