Monday, July 28, 2008

Prosperity, Security, Shalom, and the Kingdom

In the Friday, July 25, 2008, Washington Post, I read an opinion piece by Michael Gerson on a recent biography of William Wilberforce by William Hague. In the final paragraph of his article, Gerson remarked that "Hague's life of Wilberforce should be read by every student of politics, to understand why mere prosperity and mere security will never be sufficient goals of evangelical political involvement."

While I concur about Wilberforce's example and look forward to reading this new biography, may I suggest that prosperity and security should never be proper goals for evangelical political involvement, at least not as they are often conceived by many evangelicals. It is very difficult for me, reading the New Testament, to imagine them to be goals that Jesus taught and sought for himself, or for his disciples and his church. Unless, I would argue, such prosperity and security are understood as the stuff of true shalom, the kingdom of God on earth, which is envisioned as ultimately encompassing all people and all peoples. Would then that we, Jesus’ followers, incarnated and pursued kingdom prosperity and security for all, not just for some, without inequity and injustice, without fear and conflict, both within societies and between societies. Yet I suspect that the prosperity and security pursued by evangelical political involvement, at least in the United States, are basically the bourgeois desires of relatively privileged segments of society and the regrettable conflation of Christianity with American nationalism. If I am correct, then they are not proper goals of Christian political involvement, for they fail the measure of that true prosperity and security which mark the blessings of God's shalom, God's kingdom, for all people across all divisions of privilege, affiliation, alienation, and enmity.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Being and Being Human

We did not choose to be. We did not choose to be human. Being and being human are simply given. They are given to us. God - in whatever sense directly or indirectly, immediately or mediately - makes us and makes us human. God gives us being and gives us being as humans. We live from and into who we are and what we ought to do when we receive and accept these givens, when we say "Yes!" to God's creating Word.

God in Jesus calls us to love and obey him. The call is truly an invitation. Yet it is also truly a command in that God has a claim on us whether we acknowledge it or not. We owe our very existence and nature to his creating, redeeming, and transforming Word. The good news is that God's claim begins and ends in love for us - a divine love tendered in creation, crucifixion, and resurrection.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Command and Freedom

"The command of Jesus is hard, unutterably hard, for those who try to resist it. But for those who willingly submit, the yoke is easy, and the burden is light. 'His commandments are not grievous' (1 John 5.3). The commandment of Jesus is not a sort of spiritual shock treatment. Jesus asks nothing of us without giving us the strength to perform it. His commandment never seeks to destroy life, but to foster, strengthen and heal it." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Introduction to The Cost of Discipleship.)

The reason for this is that God, who made us through his Word, knows what is best for us in terms of our being and acting. When we think we know best, when we think we can create ourselves and make ourselves into the people we determine to be, then we turn from God, from God's creation, redemption, and transformation. Then the command of Jesus, true God and true human, weighs us down, breaks us, even kills us. When we give up all that misguided and even arrogant nonsense, when we give up to God and to his Word, then we die and rise in Jesus to live as truly human. What could be more freeing than to be and to do what we are meant to be and to do?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Deep Summer

The tall old willow has that deep‑summer look

of heaviness, of tired reluctance in the breeze

as if it has no heart to move or change its droop

though when it’s stirred at times like these

it takes on a slow grace in its long limbs

a commonsense resolve to bend and not be broken.

So it is. Leaves complain but part. Evening

pushes in, wading through this wearisome heat.

Honeysuckle blossoms, climbing the fence to cling

seem small and pale against the dark fields

like a child’s hands against the years to come.

We sit about the porch. Young and old alike, enduring.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

For Intimations of Glory

Most strange and yet most intimate, you are God, our God. Bending low to us in your own dear Son, you unsettle us. You dislocate, displace us in this world, and discontent us in our very existence. You make us refugees in life. Our days discomfit; our nights dread. We yearn for rest. We yearn for rest beyond all restlessness. We yearn for home beyond all homelessness. And so, most moving God, we plead your Holy Spirit; we plead your piercing love. We plead for even merest glimpses of that day when wanderings end, that land where hearts repair. Amen.

Friday, July 4, 2008

A Note on the Kingdom of God and the State

We must never mistake relative congeniality between the claims of the kingdom of God and the manifestations of a particular state or society for essential congeniality between them. In principle, the claims of the kingdom must always be distinguished from and valued above the manifestations of any state or society. In certain instances this principled distinction and valuation may be characterized by less tension and by relative congeniality. Here the danger is to be lulled by this comparative peace into the seductive identification of essential congeniality. Allegiance to and identity in the kingdom are compromised or lost, wittingly or not, in a "sacralizing" nationalism or acculturation. In other instances this principled distinction and valuation may be fraught with tension and risk, even to the point of actual loss and death. Here the dangers are at least two. One is to succumb to fear - to mute, hide, and perhaps even repudiate kingdom claims on our identity and life - in order to save our self, our family, and our fellow kingdom residents. The other is to refuse the illicit allegiance of a particular state only to go, not to the kingdom, but to some other set of claims on identity and life, such as ethnicity, gender, or alien philosophy or ideology. Amid all of this we do well to remember and obey the New Testament admonitions to seek first the kingdom of God, to lose our self for the sake of Jesus, and to live as citizens of heaven, from whence comes our savior, our lord.