According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Monday, October 12, 2015

Become Kingdom Makers, Not Kingdom Waiters

Last week I attended my school and seminary's "Talking Points" seminar as I do most every year since it began. This year's topic would be on the Kingdom of God, and as I went I knew full well it would play to the conservative evangelic side of the discussion which I grew up in and know very well down to the chapter and verse and eschatological charts used from a multitude of viewpoints: dispensational, Reformed, or even amillennial.

Mostly I attended in hopes of seeing some digression or nod of the head towards some form of a more progressive gospel over the spiritually infused words of heavenly hope accompanied by the lethurgy of social inaction refusing to address the greater needs of society. Why the disinterest in serving the world and only God? Because in the parochial line of thinking (at least within my fellowships) Jesus is coming and that should be enough to content oneself with until some cloudy day when He does actually come in the air to take away His church from this wicked world.

And although there might have been a nod towards a more earthly kingdom the day's opening speaker held to the school's current stricter position of wishing "for another day to fly away unto" and until that day "to rest in the secure knowledge" that a future heaven and earth would be a guarenteed wonderful place to be when this old world goes away by fire and destruction. And though I knew this kind of heavenly-minded sermon was coming my reaction was still one of heart-felt dismay for my old haunts of decades ago.

What I was hoping to hear was a more contemporary tone advocating for a more progressive Christian view of "Kingdom Now" as versus "Kingdom Later" kind of emphasis. But what I got was the sanitized side of a "New Heavens and New Earth" which is the safe, pedantic version of a conservative Bible gained from an evangelic-Calvinistic view of the future filled with hope and deliverance from God's coming judgment upon the world. But the more progressively-minded "Kingdom Now" view is the gutteral, ghandi-type version of God's Kingdom done from the bottom up of theology within an Arminian structure of Christ's gospel (sic, "human freedom" vs. "divine control" debates as errantly perceived of divine sovereignty evangelical Calvinists).

Now I am not discounting the grand and glorious view of my brethren's picture of God's Kingdom to come but for now, in this life, the only view which is deeply pertinent to the us (and consequently the living church of the living God) is the stereo picture of God's Kingdom lived now, here on this earth and in this life. Accompanied by a deeply burdened, if not hotly passionate picture, of God's church hard at work serving humanity based upon Christ's example and gospel love/witness as versus the heart-attitude of waiting for God's wrath and judgment to come to burn the earth to a cinder and all the unfortunate's living upon it.

In essence, the heavenly-minded "Kingdom Later" gospel leads out with preaching salvation to sinners (and basically a conservative party line of politics) with no hope of effect upon its listeners in this day and age. Which is a "Jonah-kind-of-gospel" where God's prophet Jonah grudgingly does God's will with a vigor of bitter resolve and then sits back on an overlooking hill waiting for God's wrath to fall upon his avowed enemies, the people of Nineveh. When this doesn't happen dear ol' Jonah is sorely displeased with God and bitterly asks why the nation's worst enemy (Assyria) isn't readily plunged upon by God in the same vigor that he had preached God's wrathful message? In effect, God says, "Their time has not yet come and My mercy burns with the same vigor for their souls as does your heart for their destruction." In consequence, Jonah, who had suffered great personal indignities at the hand of God Himself, now struggled with God's message of presumptive grace and sat back in a miserably depressed funk amazed by God's reaction of grace and mercy to those who would repent of their cruelty and injustices.

No less is today's hard-bitten church preaching God's word with a vigor of condemnation and then sitting back to await God's great wrath across the lands of sin and ruin. But true to form, in a mystery of atypical convention, what God does is not what the church expects, but what it doesn't want to see. God's love and compassion falls upon the cities of man to redeem the lost, show mercy upon the ruined, and grant deliverance to destitute lives committed to anything but God Himself.

It is the story of God's "Kingdom Now" coming unto this old earth rather than His future promised "Kingdom to Come" later. And it is bourne of a gospel which leads out with actually bringing both societal and personal salvation to the impoverished, the worker state, and to those held in societal chains of bondage. It is a disruptive kind of gospel which provokes imagination, heart, and soul.

As example, the plight of San Francisco was shared in several documentaries through HBO in September of 2015 (see accompanying article below). It showed a community's hardships through the lens of Alexandra Pelosi as it is being repeated again-and-again throughout the major metropolises of this world. And into this urban blight comes a response from the progressive church to a heartfelt and known social need unwanted in the vision of more structured views of the evangelical church believing desolation for desolation's sake is the response God has shown to those peoples who have rejected Him and refuse obedience to His holy name.

But it is a naive, and uninformed view which shows just the opposite through the documentary's piercing lenses. A view requiring action both within the government as well as from its citizenry. And especially from the churches of America declaring for the rights of the damned, the poor, the disenfranchised, the debt-ridden student, and distraught worker excessively burdened with no way out. It is a social occurrence that is all too frequent and must be framed both within our political discourses as well as within our walled-up, hard-hearted churches unwilling to allow a sympathetic tone or generosity to allieviate the ungenerous side of America's capitalism.

Most importantly, it must also be a response of compassion from both the church and society in general fraught within a banking system and corporate structure driven by share value and prowess. It is a "Kingdom Now" effort which makes most of us suburbanites feel uncomfortable having been delievered from this urban menance in our own lives by luck, chance, circumstance, or plain hard work and right decision making. But it must be something which gets us beyond our sense of normalcy, complacency, and hard-heartedness as it now stands within our surburban churces having escaped this great misery of the cities it has left behind.

And, it must proceed apace with a restorative ecology in mind and not simply a heavenly "new ecology" that someday may come (sic, the "new" earth part of "new heavens and new earth). To see an earth in need of reclamation as much as its peoples need to live in lands offering good soil, clean water, and nurturing space. Its not the kind of "Kingdom Later" theology which would spiritualized inactivity and cultural status quo with a do-nothing attitude because "its all going to burn up anyway."

The Jesus we see in the NT is a Jesus who serves and works for humanity as versus one preaching in a Pharisaical temple of God's "bounded' goodness and "controlling" wisdom. But a Savior of man who preaches a gospel declaring His temple as the city streets, the amphitheaters of the rocky hillsides, the seashores, and debauched dinning spaces of Jerusalem. It was to be a gospel formed by words accompanied by action (James 2.14ff), and action accompanied by words. It was a full circle kind of divine service to a humanity forgotten, disregarded, judged, and condemned by the religious regimes of Jerusalem aligned with Rome with a political lust for Rome's power. The bottom line is to be difference makers and not difference breakers in Christ's name.

For myself, yes, there will be a New Heavens and New Earth. Whether fiction or fantasy I don't know, its what's declared in the Bible. But I also know that God's Kingdom must also be now and not simply later within our theologies. To see a Christian Church always at work in this world both by gospel message as well as with rolled up shirt sleeves and dirty hands administring the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ as servants to His holy name and glorious majesty. It is a gospel that works for the rights of others to be freed from the bondage of sin and its earthly hardships borne by the sin of society working against God's will towards obedience, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. A bondage that is unrelenting unless it be broken by burdened souls and communities dedicated to the rights of others through any form of redemption they may bring to help and unshackle the loss and the destitute in the gospel of Christ. A gospel that works instead of waits. Serves instead of condemns. Sacrifices instead of grasp all the more tightly to its own deliverances. It is a gospel of a Kingdom both later and now and evermore. Thus our admonition to be kingdom makers and not a kingdom waiters. Serve. Love. Dedicate heart and soul to a divine humanity lost within this wicked world and found once again. Amen and amen.


R.E. Slater
October 12, 2015
revised October 15, 2015

*For more discussion on the American economy and how the church may change it, go to this link here discussing "The Soul of the Next Economy" by Brian McLaren and company: "The vision of the Soul of the Next Economy dialogues is to help us move from an extractive, exploitative economy to a regenerative economy that prizes the flourishing of people as well as the planet." Cost is $20.



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Courtesy HBO

A TALE OF TWO CITIES
09.28.153:33 PM ET

San Francisco’s Alarming Tech Bro Boom: What Is the Price of Change?

Director Alexandra Pelosi, whose doc San Francisco 2.0 premieres September 28 on HBO, writes about how her city is emblematic of a changing America, and the new segregation.

By now you must have heard the rumblings coming from the West Coast about “the battle for the heart and soul of The City.” Not a week goes by without a headline about the growing pains brought on by the tech Gold Rush in San Francisco. For my ninth HBO documentary, San Francisco 2.0, which premieres Monday, September 28, at 9 p.m. on HBO, I chose to point the camera at my beloved hometown, where the influx of tech money and the sharing economy are disrupting the natural order of things.

Inside San Francisco, it’s impossible to talk about progress without stepping in a messy local streetfight. As the natives try to encourage the techies to see The City as their community, not their playground, a backlash against gentrification has erupted. But the rest of the country can look at the vanishing middle class of San Francisco to see our fate—the new segregation between rich and poor that is emerging in San Francisco 2.0 is the challenge of the new American economic reality.

“I’m worried about a city that is becoming uniformly wealthy and out of reach,” former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich explains. “San Francisco is London, it is Vancouver, it is Manhattan, it is places that are increasingly desirable to live in, that are becoming gated communities.” Have middle-class Americans lost access to their cities? Who gets to live in The City? Will middle-class people still feel like they belong? Or will our cities be for only those who can buy their way in? This is not simply an economic question, it’s also a spiritual one: What is the price of change? And what will the growing divide between rich and poor do to the fabric of America?

As we struggle to come up with fair answers to these questions, we must embrace the fact that you can’t fight change. You can’t refuel a city by standing still. San Francisco is not a boutique, it’s a center of commerce with the highest median tech wage in the country. No one can deny the benefits the tech boom has brought to San Francisco—all the new money is clearly good for the city’s tax base. “Every mayor in America would die to have these problems,” my uncle, Tommy D’Alesandro, says. He, like his father, served as mayor of Baltimore during much more divided times in American history. We must be grateful to the tech companies for bringing jobs and tax revenues and cleaning up their neighborhoods. New jobs have trickled down.

San Francisco 2.0 by HBO

For each new tech bro hired, there are new job openings for baristas, manicurists and personal trainers. This is the new feudalism of San Francisco 2.0, the landed gentry need more people to service them. So we need more bartenders, and they can't afford to live in the City…but what about the schoolteachers? Or the fireman and police who protect our families? Don’t we need to make room for them?

For some, the only way to hold on to the city with its skyrocketing home sales and rent prices is to join the sharing economy. Renting out their apartment on Airbnb or driving for Uber. But as Reich asks, “What happens to the widening inequality? What happens to job security? Everybody who becomes more of a contingent worker, more of a precarious worker—whether you’re an Uber driver or you are an Airbnb proprietor—your source of income is that less certain. A freelance economy can be a very cruel economy. It can be a form of social Darwinism.” This is the dark side to progress. For capitalism and democracy to actually work, we need new rules to make the playing field fair for everyone.

Courtesy of HBO

At a time when it is in vogue to hate our politicians, we need our elected leaders now more than ever to write the new laws that will guide us into the new frontier. As we try to figure out how to manage all this change, we need to make sure we don’t destroy the character of our communities. As more cities become a Tale of Two Cities, in which the class warfare between the haves and have-nots rages, and income inequality becomes a national epidemic, we need to find solutions that will keep our country together.

We are all looking West for solutions to these epic challenges of how to learn to share, manage change, and evolve as a community. And if any city can solve these problems, I’m hoping that my progressive hometown will lead the way into the new world economy—without leaving its heart and soul behind.