Tag Archives: empire

If we build it, is God obligated to come?

At a BIC General conference, one of the speakers shared a memory. The church used to build a building where they wanted to have a congregation, then install a pastor and challenge him to fill it. “Building first” seemed like common sense to a lot of people — it still does. For instance, even before the Coordinators commissioned Jonny Rashid to lead Hive 2010, members of the formation team were already looking for prospective buildings — they still are.

Maybe it is in the American psyche to think, “If you build it, they will come” – that often makes sense to USonians; look at how Las Vegas gets people to trek out into a wasteland! Before people wanted to build a wall around it, people thought the whole country was built so freedom-loving capitalists from all over the world could come. We built it; they came! Maybe we all experience a little trickle-down empire building. Maybe we’re so materialistic, we end up thinking of ourselves as a destination. We don’t wait for someone to objectify us, we do it ourselves, “If I am fabulous some will love me,” or “If I am built, someone is sure to roll up my driveway.”

There are two huge problems with this mentality, one for mission and one for personal spiritual development.

The kingdom is not enshrined anywhere

On the mission side, Jesus followers need flexibility to do what needs to be done in the guerrilla war we are in against the domination system. The enslaving forces of the world never give up. Some Christians thought building fortress America for white Christians would spare them. But it has not been a great solution, since now so many Christians are in thrall to it! The kingdom of God is among us, not lodged in some building, or enshrined in some method.

Even Circle of Hope, which has some inbred incapacity that keeps us flexible, is having a difficult time, right now, turning itself into the stream of what God is doing next. We are doing it, but it is all too easy to live in what we built last decade.

Related image

We live to build

Same goes for the personal side. For many of us, once we get some faith established, we find our place in the community and we don’t have regular emotional breakdowns, we want to keep things stable. We’re built. We just try not to get unbuilt again. But the enslaving forces don’t give up. Sometimes we can be in denial so completely that we are like the last unremodeled house in a gentrified neighborhood – the world changed around us and we can’t figure out why it is so taxing to live in it.

I think we usually want to build it once, if we build anything at all, and see what comes. It can feel a little daunting to have worked so hard and then need to work hard some more. If one’s illusion is that “I am supposed to build my dream and then live in it,” it is very daunting to discover that is not all there is to it.  But if one dreams about following Jesus, then there is the possibility of a lot more joy in store than just enjoying what you have built for yourself.

In Jesus, the work itself is about living, not about achieving a life. One doesn’t work in order to retire from working, one lives! One doesn’t build in order to get a life, one lives in order to build! Always being on a journey, and often being in something like a military campaign, can be tiring, but it is a pleasant fatigue. And the opposite of fighting alongside Jesus is a killer. Following after Jesus is a lot better than looking at everything you worked so hard to build and realizing that God doesn’t come to it anymore.

I have been thinking a lot about Jesus telling his detractors that “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8). I long for all of us to have that sense of solidity as a people and as individuals — so that whether we have a place or build a place, we are, in Christ. When we are built firmly into Christ, we won’t be lost in building something to compete with the world and we won’t be unbuilt by the domination system coveting our personal property. We don’t need to build it so He will come; He came so we build.

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Don’t just worship Jesus, follow Him.

At the General Conference of the Brethren in Christ we were led, part of the time, by a talented team of young people fronted by Bishop Aner’s family. I think they are great. But I finally stopped singing with them. I just could not sing another rendition of the same skewed song. While it was a bit painful to come to this realization, I think I am pretty much over songs based on what I would call a triumphalistic mentality. Christian worship needs to be larger than the nation-focused worship of many psalms, and it needs to be smaller than the power-based assumptions of an empire. The King of kings is a suffering servant. Worship includes following him, not just worshiping him.

Worship the king

Their music was all about being granted the favors of a king. The songs kept repeating this, so they helped me focus on a tendency I had been noticing elsewhere. I decided to do some research, so I entered “worship the king” on Google. The first entry was for a worship team. They published a video. They had a cool backdrop, a drum screen, a word screen in the back, a lead singer in skinny pants, and even a white-haired woman doing the Pentecostal “jump” in the crowd. Corey Voss was trying to sell his new generic song on iTunes. It was the kind of music used at the conference. And yes, we were encouraged to jump there, too.

I think Voss’s song is nice. He could be alluding to Matthew 21:1-17 where Jesus presents himself as king. He could be thinking of Jesus as the kind of king he appears there, and on the cross, and not fast forwarding to the kind of king he will appear as when he comes a second time. There is a difference. Because the nature of Jesus’ kingship now is creating a season of salvation in world history during which people can still switch sides. There is still time for everyone to accept the amnesty that King Jesus holds out, and renounce allegiance to self, or country, or prosperity or whatever else rules more than Jesus. Or the emphasis on Jesus as king might be skewed from an empire viewpoint and it is all about getting power, defeating enemies, staying safe, and staying out of trouble with an overlord.

I love to worship and can generously use all sorts of music. But I have this terrible feeling that with a lot of songs Christians are using these days, Jesus has been transmuted back into the Psalms rather than the Psalms looking ahead to Him. All this king and kingdom worship makes Jesus an all-powerful emperor, in the image of Constantine (d. 337) or the latest strongman, rather than the suffering servant riding into town in a very humble, human way. You recall that his goal was not to be king of the world, even though people wanted him to be. Jesus is still washing feet through his people.

Jesus comparison

The Post-Constantine shift

I fear that we are still committed to the shift Christianity took very early on. A book I am reading (and recommending) talks about an inappropriate and unbiblical shift in the way Christians see Jesus. Here is a small summary quote: “The Christendom era has bequeathed a form of Christianity that has marginalized, spiritualized, domesticated and [diminished] Jesus. The teaching of Jesus is watered down, privatized, and explained away. Jesus is worshiped as a remote kingly figure or a romanticized personal savior. In many churches (especially those emerging from the Reformation), Paul’s writings are prioritized over the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus. And in many Christian traditions, ethical guidelines derived from the Old Testament or pagan philosophy trump Jesus’ call to discipleship.” – The Naked Anabaptist, p. 55

I think I can can see this shift hanging on in the worship of millennials like Corey Voss. Maybe we can see the shift represented in the fact that four out of five Evangelicals say they will vote for Donald Trump, despite Hillary Clinton’s much more developed and demonstrated faith. That is not an endorsement of Hillary, since I can find a lot to doubt about her, but it is an interesting reaction. I think they may want Jesus the ruler rather than Jesus the servant. I think they may want to worship Jesus, not follow him. Perhaps they have come to like God, but they cannot tolerate the suffering, morally demanding, take-up-your-cross-and-follow-me Jesus. It seems to me that their cross is a sign of triumph, empty of Jesus and empty of themselves, a sign of victory over sin, but also over opponents, a cross jauntily held over their shoulder as a weapon like the imperial Jesus on the right above.

The life and teaching of Jesus is central to our faith. Circle of Hope has twenty years of experience in following Jesus as well as worshiping Him. Right now Daily Prayer :: WIND is exploring Jesus in the New Testament. I recommend it as a means to stay conscious in this mind-and-heart-numbing context in which we live.