Tag Archive for kingdom

Life is not a warm-up for heaven

imageThe whole idea of heaven, while hope inspiring, often corrodes and hollows out our everyday life. It is interesting to note that Jesus rarely spoke about heaven. To him, it seemed much more important and urgent to deal with life here and now. Heaven in the here and now.

“Repent, for the kingdom of god is at hand”

So what did he mean?

Turn around, because you are all about to die?

No, Jesus clearly instructs his followers that “the kingdom is not here or there so one can point at it, rather the kingdom of god is inside of you”. We also need to understand that the kingdom of god and the kingdom of heaven is the same thing, it is not a place we can move to but a reality we can wake up to.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that there is nothing there after we die, there may very well be some elevated, transcendant reality after this life. All I am saying is that that is not the point. The point is that the kingdom is here and now and if we are completely focussed on then and there we will miss it!

Not only do our choices matter eternally they also matter right here, right now!

Another word used in the New Testament for the kingdom of god/heaven is life or eternal life (aionos zoe). This is primarily used by the author to John’s gospel, who hardly ever mentions the kingdom at all. Rather John’s Jesus offers life and life in abundance. This is the gospel, the good news, that we do not have to wait for pie in the sky when we die. We can have it now, it is accessible here.

“Don’t you know that your body is the temple of the holy spirit?”

You are the container, the channel of divine love into your community. You are the kingdom, the church, the body. You are it! Right here and right now.

“Above all guard your hearts, because from your heart flows all of life”

So if we are to understand this proverb in the light of John’s high Christology and immanent eschatology then we understand that the point of life is living it. When we simply live life, life flows from our hearts, or to substitute the term: Heaven flows from our hearts and encloses those that are around us. Life is not a warm up for heaven, beacuse, to quote the song “heaven is a place on earth”. This life is it, this life, right here right now, is where we find heaven or hell, where we live through divine bliss or diabolical misery. We just need to wake up and smell the coffee (or in my case, smell the Roibosh Paradise).

There is no dress rehersal, no trial run, no qualifying round; Whatever you are living right now is the main event, the real thing, your grand performance.

So today, on this unique beautiful day in all of eternity, let’s choose to love!

Truth, Grace & Justice

The trinity of love consists, according to Christian Schwartz book “The 3 colors of love”, of truth grace and justice. The scriptures rarely mention truth or grace without mentioning justice, but what if any is the relationship between the three?

Grace is the word most often associated with love, when someone is graceful we understand this as loving, forgiveness is easily understood as god's love in action. Truth on the other hand is often perceived as hard and ungraceful. Justice is even harder than truth and is often symbolised with a sword.

So why does the scriptures insist on bundling these three concepts together (look In the original texts for: Haesed, aemunnah and sedaqua)? Why would a scholar like Christian Schwartz hold that these three are the sum of love, that love cannot be without any of these components?

Let's start with love, to love someone or to be loving towards someone implies relationship, and so it is within the framework of relationship we must understand love. You cannot love someone without seeing them (to be seen is to be loved, to be loved is to be seen). To see someone does not mean just to perceive their person, but rather knowing them. To truly know them, or to know the truth about them. Unless you know the truth about a person, unless you see behind the mask, you do not truly love them, you love the mask, the fictional character you have been shown. This is not true love. So truth is a prerequisite for love.

To show the truth about oneself, one must feel safe, one must feel that the other person will not judge who you truly are, you need the other person to be full of grace, forgiving, accepting. And so grace becomes the prerequisite for showing up as oneself. Although it must also be said that even in the face of grace, it takes great courage to she'd the mask, to be vulnerable and show up as oneself. If grace then is the prerequisite for truth, and if truth is the prerequisite for love, then truth and grace are both vital components of love.

How does Justice fit into this matrix? Before we can answer this we must ask what is justice? A simple answer would be that justice is things set right. Although many people associate justice with punishment, this is not the same as justice. Justice is what happens when the kingdom of god comes about, when things are put right, relationships set in their proper place. To find out that something is unjust, that a relationship is unbalanced, that someone is taken advantage of, we must first know the truth about the involved parties. Injustice hides in secrecy, truth brings injustice to the light. When the truth is known justice can happen, things can be set right. People whom live under oppression (injustice) often stay in it because of shame, sometimes because they think it is their own fault the injustice has happened (this is often the case when a corrosive “gospel” of blame and sin management has been preached). Shame can only be dispelled by the graceful truth, it is not your fault! So grace is required for the truth of injustice to be known. However justice does not happen just because the truth of injustice is known. For justice to happen the other party in the relationship must be addressed so things can be set right. So truth must be spoken again, but for the offender truth spoken without grace will most often not be heard. Furthermore in relationship there needs to be balance, each person involved must get from the relationship what they need from the relationship, this is justice. It is important to remember that this does not mean equally or exactly the same as each person is unique and their needs are equally unique. Justice is never blind, unbiased. Justice needs to see the truth and take the side of the oppressed, the have not. Justice is the kingdom of god, a relationship set right, the world set right one relationship at the time.

So these three: truth, grace and justice mark the complexity and completeness of love.

To tell the truth about oneself so justice can prevail one needs an environment of grace. To tell the truth about another so justice can happen one must do so with grace to be heard.

I feel this is summed up beautifully in Mika 6:8

He has shown all you people what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8 TNIV)

Here it is, we are to do what is right, this is not a list of do's and don'ts but rather whatever constitutes justice in the present moment, what is god's vision for this moment, in this relationship. We are also to love mercy, to love grace, to act gracefully and seek out grace communities, to surround ourselves with grace. And then we are to walk humbly, what does this mean? The word humble comes from the Latin humus, which means earth, so we are humble when we are down to earth. This is not to cast our eyes down and be submissives, but rather to be true, to know the truth about ourselves and neither think to highly or to lowly about ourselves, to not pretend to be something we are not, but to just be who we are, true.

 

How I became a queer theologian a desert journey

Last week my friend Samuel decided to reblog one of my posts on LGBTQ and the church. Promptly someone questioned if I really had written the piece as I had taught a very different gospel at said persons confirmation camp. I had to reply that I have been (am still) on a long theological pilgrimage.

Looking back I realise that it has been a long journey, not in a straight line but rather a rambling exodus in the christian desert of sexual mis/information.

When I was younger I had no opinions about sexuality. Sex was the mystical promised land of unending climactic pleasure. There was some testing the waters outside the boundaries of heteronorm conduct though I never wavered in my appreciation and attraction to the mythical female forms. I encountered gay men and lesbian women early as I lived at times in LGBTQ collectives with pink triangles painted on the walls and worn by the kind gentlemen who shared rooms in the oversized apartment. As I was not sexually active I did not understand what that meant or that it could be wrong.

It was not until I became a Christian in my late teens that I was told that certain sexualities where accepted by god (a man and a woman joined in holy matrimony) and all other sexualities (mine included) where tickets straight to a fiery lake with eternal torment on the side. I was taught to read the bible literally and would never have considered Christianity a real option had I not experienced pure authentic joy (in the small baptist church in Malmö) and the unconditional love of an older man (the token black man in the otherwise all white congregation i attended in the Ozarkian backwaters of the US bible belt) showcasing what a fathers love should really be like.

I was crushed to my knees by the awesome presence of the divine and repented my old ways. That is when I had to start reconciling my postmodern upbringing with the modern vestments of American churchianity. First I had to shed my love and fascination for science and replace it with a growing passion for the metaphysical secondly I had to reconcile the unconditional love I felt from god with the judgement of everyone not part of the church (the church being a very narrow description of people who believed exactly what I had been taught that the bible teaches).

This was hard work, it is not easy reconciling a loving god with eternal conscious torment. It lead to a lot of ‘closeting’ that is I had to hide the parts of me that where not compatible with this black and white world of conditional love and unconditional justice. I burnt and renounced my tarot cards, my roleplaying games and my Metallica albums. I listened only to approved Christian music and broke of with my girlfriend who was trying to lead me into sexual temptation by her very existence.

One day I was sitting at our local hangout when a punk girl my age came up to me and asked me if I thought she was going to hell if she died today. I asked her dutifully if she ‘believed in her heart’ and if she could ‘confess with her mouth’ that Jesus was lord. She said that she didn’t know what she believed and that she would confess no such thing. That settled it in my mind and I told her as much, she was going to hell unless she reconsidered. I remember walking out of there with confidence and feeling quite proud of myself the ‘little servant of the lord’ and an evangelist to boot. Hadn’t I in no uncertain terms explained that god was handing out a free bag of candy if she would just bow to his might, never mind the punch in the face that was the price of refusal. The next day I learned that she had killed herself that night. I think this was the first day of my real journey.

Surely Jesus would ave seen the need to be loved in this girls eyes and restored her self worth… Surely Jesus would have known what to say, how to love her. How to enter into her world, to penetrate her bubble and show how passionately relentlessly god loved her.

I still had many years of soul searching and theological wrestling with the doctrinal dragons of organised religion ahead of me before I could answer these questions in a way that would be actual good news. In the meantime I compartmentalised the problem with the ever so handy phrase “Love the sinner, hate the sin”. I represented a unholy, unholistic hermeneutic of separation between person and action as if we can be separated from what we do so easily.

I did peer training with “a world of difference institute” and CEJI two wonderful organisations working against antisemitism, bigotry and racism. I did so still asserting that god loves gay people, he just hate what they do. I honestly did not realise that what my friend Paul heard from me, the loving Christian, was god loves you but hates what you are. From my other fiends on the peer training course who where not Christians he got only love because he was just a lovely loving guy. To this day I wish I could find Paul and tell him how sorry I am.

Stumbling through life trying to find a way to be an honest Christian who will preach a message that rings true and can be considered good news to the poor and the not so poor, the normal and the weird, the straight and the queer.

So I came to college a raving fundamentalist who really wanted to believe the pre-formated cookie cutter christian platitudes I was spewing out.

Don’t get me wrong; I was an excellent speacher, I could motivate and capture young peoples hearts with a cunning accuracy. I could convert and convict, I got inspire and release. My prophetic gift kicked in just enough to scare the youth I spoke to enough to hang onto every word I spoke. If only I could have believed them as fully as they did. If only the beast in the closet could die and not cry out for release.

At college was where my ‘queering’ begun. As my understanding for bible history, hermeneutics and biblical exegesis grew I quickly lost grip of my fundamentalist ‘reality’. I honestly thought at times as I was loosing my faith.

“What do you mean Moses did not cross the red sea?”

It was well into the last quarter of the first year before I gave up pressing my old formulaic beliefs into academic language and capitulated to what my soul cried out for ‘a faith seeking understanding’ but doing so in the only way I known how to do anything ‘no holds barred’.

My first queer teacher (I am unsure how he would feel about the title but it is just as true) made this groundbreaking statement: Just because it didn’t happen, doesn’t mean it’s not true. That statement alone was worth the price of admission. It ‘queered’ my faith forever, in the same way that Jesus’ “You have heard it said …. But I say unto you ….” must have done for his followers. This together with the guidance of Brian McLaren (A new kind of Christian, the secret message of Jesus) and John Eldredge (Epic, Desire, Sacred Romance, Wild at heart) who taught me a narrative reading of scripture. A narrative framework to replace my rigid fundamentalism.

Still the question of sexuality was still in the closet. I tried to open the can at college but was not really encouraged to go there. So I did when I hit the ground at my first appointment. The first week on the appointment I was asked, hypothetically, if I would officiate a gay marriage. I had no answer, but at least this time I was mature, courageous enough to admit that I did not.

Many books, sermons and meetings with representatives of the LGBTQ community later, I am standing on a square literally around the corner from the restaurant where I met the punk girl all those years ago. I am watching a heated argument between a young american missionary standing with a six foot cross over his shoulder and a young punk rocker girl with pink hair and a nose ring. She is spewing sarcastic question at him like a spitfire and he is squirming under the pressure. He tries to be graceful. He says to her that god loves her and that she will get to heaven IF she will repent her actions. I feel a strange yet familiar tug in my heart and I intervene, literally, I step in between the two combatant and I try to intercede. God loves you I say to her. She blinks twice and says, sarcasm thick in her voice, “but …” But nothing, I say, “god loves you, no matter who you are, what you do and whom you love”. At first she gets angry accusing me of trying to steal the other guys convert, then she mellows and asks quietly, “do you really mean it?” Then hesitantly, “Would god love me even if I was born a man, I mean even if I am a man down here and woman up here” she gestures at her body parts. I re-emphasise, “god loves you just as you are right now, he loves every part of you both down there and up here” I say. She goes quiet for a while and I realise she is crying. “Thank you”, she says, “I did not know there where Christians like you. I don’t believe in god but maybe I could love a god like the one you know”.

It struck me then that this is why I am. My whole existence can be described with a purpose to this moment, to tell this girl that god loves her, her mess, her penis and breasts and all. and that is good news.

 

Armylife impossible!

Page_4 I have the theme tune of mission impossible playing in my mind constantly, and have all sorts of bizarre scenarios of what Saturdays consultation will be like.

Most of them have some sort of feel of Mission Impossible or any other secret agent movie.

I am reminded of the chapter in Brian Mclaren’s The Secret Message of Jesus where he talks about us being agents of Gods Kingdom.

I can totally see that.

And lets face it who haven’t dreamt of being a secret super agent at one time or another?

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