Thursday, March 24, 2011

Have we fallen for a myth?

This post has been a long time coming. I finished Greg Boyd's book The Myth of a Christian Nation months ago, and haven't had the time to write about it (being a father of 4 kiddos limits my concentrated time for writing, I would really like to do more, but can't find the time without neglecting their desire to play Connect Four - which is, OK). It has taken me just about that long to process some of the concepts and truths in the book.

Originally I had not wanted to read the book because I believed it was going to be too political, too Left and Right. I assumed that it would stand on one side or the other and try to explain a certain political position, whether that be liberal or conservative, and how it fits with God's plans. I guess I judged a book by it's cover (or its title). It did none of this, rather it put into writing things that I have believed about politics and government but not been able to articulate, then went one step past that by planting those beliefs right in the middle of the Kingdom of God.

Boyd is a pastor of a church in Minneapolis. When he preached the sermon series the book is based upon, over 1,000 of his church congregation left the church. The message is bold, but just as Jesus said, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first" (John 15:18).

Here is what Boyd writes as the thesis of the book:
My thesis, which caused such an uproar, is this: I believe a significant segment of American evangelicalism is guilty of nationalistic and political idolatry. To a frightful degree, I think, evangelicals fuse the kingdom of God with a preferred version of the kingdom of the world (whether it's our national interests, a particular form of government, a particular political program, or so on). Rather than focusing our understanding of God's kingdom on the person of Jesus - who, incidentally, never allowed himself to get pulled into the political disputes of his day - I believe many of us American evangelicals have allowed our understanding of the kingdom of God to be polluted with political ideals, agendas, and issues.
The book wasn't necessarily political, in the sense of standing in a liberal, conservative, Right or Left ideology, but it was very political, in the sense that it spoke about kingdoms. Really, the book is a treatise about the contrast between the kingdom of the world and the Kingdom of God. It was eye-opening.

In the first two chapters, Boyd explains, while thoroughly inserting Scriptures, this difference. The first chapter, titled "The Kingdom of the Sword," discusses how this kingdom is basically a "power over" kingdom. Meaning that, although not everything governments of the world do are necessarily bad (Boyd repeats numerous times that many governments do some very good things), they use power to coerce it's citizens into following laws and doing good (or evil). By referring to these "kingdoms" as "The Kingdom of the Sword," Boyd is not specifically defining them by violence, as much as this might be the case, but rather by the power to use violence if needed in order to control citizens. Yet, however much a government attempts to influence how their subjects think and feel, it cannot bring about internal change. Only the Kingdom of the Cross can do that.

The Kingdom of the Cross is how Boyd defines the Kingdom of God because the actions of Jesus on the cross is a perfect example and representation of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of the Cross is defined by "power under," sacrificially loving others, even your enemy, serving them, "becoming the least." Boyd gives several examples of what this looks like in the life of Jesus: becoming like children (Matt. 19:14, Matt. 18:3-4), possibly the most dramatic and emotional example was Jesus washing feet (John 13:4-5), and enemy love (Matt. 16:21-23). In regards to this, Boyd tells the story of how the slave of the high priest, Malchus, had his ear cut off by Peter in the garden when they attempted to arrest Jesus. "But Jesus answered, 'No more of this!' And he touched the man’s ear and healed him" (Luke 22:51). Boyd then asks some poignant questions:
"Do you think [Malchus], with whatever ill will he may have harbored toward Jesus on the way to arresting him, continued to harbor it after his encounter with Kingdom love? Can you imagine him being among those who spit on Jesus and mocked him? Is it not more likely that he became at least a little more open to God's love and perhaps a little more loving toward others as a result of Jesus' gift? The point is that love, through service, has a power to affect people in ways that 'power over' tactics do not, and it is this unique power of self-sacrificial love that most centrally defines the kingdom of God."
The Kingdom of God contrasts the kingdom of the world in every possible way. If we desire to experience the Kingdom of God, we must first learn to recognize it. The example we are given is in the life of Jesus. Examining His life, what He did, where He went, who He spent time with, how He interacted with government, money, His friends and His enemies are just a few of the relationships we must examine in our own lives. I find it interesting that the only time Jesus tells His disciples that he is giving them an "example" is when He washes their feet (John 13:15).

The book does discuss politics. Boyd goes on to discuss Constantine and the Christianization of empire in AD 312, going even further by giving a short history of the "power over" of the Church. Finally explaining that it was never Jesus' goal to Christianize the Romans, and that it shouldn't be our goal to Christianize our current kingdom-of-the-world government in the United States. Legislating morality through some political agenda by demonizing gays, pro-choicers or liberals or on the flip side demonizing fundamentalists, gay-bashers and anti-abortionists as being intolerant blurs the line between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world.
If we were thinking along the lines of the kingdom of God, however, we would realize that none of the people mentioned in the above lists are people whom kingdom-of-God citizens are called to fight against. They are, rather, people whom kingdom-of-God citizens are called to fight for.
Rather, what we must focus on is recognizing the contrast between the two kingdoms. That should be our singular focus as kingdom-of-God citizens and is probably once again best explained by Boyd:
A person may win by kingdom-of-the-world standards but lose by the standards that eternally count-the standards of the kingdom of God. We can posses all the right kingdom-of-the-world opinions on the planet and stand for all the right kingdom-of-the-world causes, but if we don’t look like Jesus Christ carrying his cross to Golgotha-sacrificing our time, energy, and resources for others-our rightness is merely religious noise. Jesus taught that there will be many who seem to believe the right things and do religious deeds in his name whom He will renounce, for they didn’t love him by loving the homeless, the hungry, the poor, and the prisoner (Matt. 7:21-23; 25:41-46; cf. Luck 6:46-49). However right we may be, without love we are simply displaying a religious version of the world, not the Kingdom of God.
Jesus, our example, didn't win in a kingdom of the world way, that is why He said that His kingdom was not of this world. To Pilate, His victory wasn't going to look at all like a victory. If we call ourselves followers of Christ, we must learn to recognize this Kingdom that He spoke of and desperately seek it, with everything we can muster and all of who we claim to be.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

God, give us more creativity. . .

Creativity like this. . .

Here is the trailer to a really cool urban farming project / film project. A very creative way to spread the love of fresh produce.

You can check out episodes of Truck Farm at Sustainable Traditions.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Take a moment. . . .

and think about this. The United States spends $30,000 per second on its military. What should be the typical Christian's response to that statistic?