Posts Tagged ‘Kingdom of God

04
Jul
22

Forward or Backward?

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July.

Celebrating this holiday has rarely ever been a question for me. I mean, who wouldn’t jump at the chance for a day off, a backyard BBQ, a frosty cold adult beverage, all topped off by watching a display of loud, colorful fireworks. 

But something is different this year. 

Something seems psychically, spiritually, and certainly politically out of whack here on July 3, 2022.

My blogger idol Mitch Teemley (find his thoughtful work here) has jarred my consciousness about what it means for anyone… but ESPECIALLY a follower of Christ… to engage in this national festivity. 

We have all witnessed the way this date can easily become a jingoistic bacchanalia of flag-waving excess, raising this nation onto the altar in place of the One God, in the meantime willfully turning a blind eye to the violent and blood-stained chapters of our national story.

Mitch has forced me out of my sleepwalk and invited me to confront this question: What is it exactly that I am celebrating when I celebrate the Fourth of July? 

  • Am I celebrating the publication of the document that declared this nation’s independence from its overbearing British parent? 
  • Am I celebrating the IDEA of a nation “… of the people, by the people, and for the people,” where all are created equal, with preference accorded to none? 
  • Am I celebrating everything this nation is today… warts and all?

And finally, is it even possible to celebrate the IDEA of the nation without acknowledging its shortcomings and monumental moral failures? 

First, as a follower and disciple of Jesus Christ, I must remember that I am called to a Higher Citizenship than the citizenship of any particular nation-state. Jesus reminds me that God’s kingdom – that I pray will come, “… on earth as it is in heaven…” – is the only kingdom worthy of my ultimate allegiance. 

Jesus helped us keep these priorities in order when he said: “Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21, NRSVU). 

But what ARE “… the things that are Caesar’s”?

For example, do I owe “Caesar” (i.e., the political power structures of my country) my unquestioning loyalty? Do I owe “Caesar” silence in the light of injustice? Do I owe “Caesar” the benefit of the doubt? Do I owe “Caesar” a joyous birthday celebration that conveniently glosses over damage being done today (in “Caesar’s” name) to women, people of color, disabled people, people living in poverty, people denied access to education, and numerous other disenfranchised groups?

Jesus’ words also remind me that those who aspire to follow him are called to be instruments of justice wherever and whenever they encounter injustice. “And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:40, NRSVU). 

Which, it seems to me, applies even when “Caesar” is the instrument of injustice. 

Frankly, I am torn. I don’t ever remember being this ambivalent about celebrating the Fourth in my life. I have heard some people say, “My country, right or wrong.” I have heard other people say, “Today, I am NOT proud to call myself an American.”

I waver back and forth between those two wildly oppositional poles.

I suppose I could choose to ignore my distress and say, “What the heck. This day is all about the fireworks, beer, and BBQ. Don’t overthink it, bruh.”

Or maybe… just maybe…

I could find a way to COMPLETELY and RADICALLY reframe this holiday. Maybe even give it a new name! 

Hear me out! What if… instead of making this a BACKWARD-LOOKING celebration that forces me to conveniently ignore things like slavery, and the extermination of the First Inhabitants, and similarly ugly chapters, what if I choose to make this a FORWARD-LOOKING celebration? A FORWARD-LOOKING celebration that is about claiming a bold promise for a just and truly compassionate nation?

What if… to cement this FORWARD-LOOKING theme in place a little more solidly… what if instead of calling it the FOURTH of JULY, we call it the FORTH of JULY?? You know… the day when we GO FORTH to work hand-in-hand to create that “shining city on a hill” our Founders envisioned? 

And what if we do that as an expression of our allegiance to Jesus and his vision of God’s kingdom where, “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine” enjoys justice, peace, security, and life in equal measure with all other citizens?

What if… 

Now THAT is something I’d shoot off a firework or two about.

Abundant blessings;

19
Aug
19

Uncommonly Common

Alien invasionIf there is one thing we have proved conclusively in this country, it is that, contrary to the old saying, what’s good for the goose is NOT necessarily also good for the gander.

At least that’s what the gander seems to think.

Even a casual glance will tell you that here in 2019 these states of ours are anything but united.

Group A passionately defends their version of a “common-sense solution,” while Group B howls in protest, deeply offended. Group C is convinced that both A and B are “wacko nutjobs” and wants nothing to do with either.

Each of us has become adept at articulating the outcome that will be in MY best interest, but we have become clumsy and tongue-tied when it comes to nailing down a clear picture of what WE, together, might need.

What I am referring to, of course, is that ancient concept called “the common good.” A version of the common good was first articulated by the authors of the Magna Carta in June 1215 in Runnymede, England. This cornerstone document established the principle that everyone is subject to the law, even the king, and guaranteed the rights of individuals, the right to justice and the right to a fair trial.[1] The foundational principle of the Magna Carta holds that leaders of nations should devote themselves to pursuing a “good” that is held in common by all… regardless of political party or station in life.

What a concept!

One has to wonder though; in this age of runaway individuation is it even possible to speak about pursuing something so all-encompassing as a “common good”?

Last year former Clinton secretary of labor Robert Reich wrote a book called The Common Good in which he said, “What binds us as Americans is not birth or ethnicity but a commitment to fundamental ideals and principles: respect for the rule of law and democratic institutions, toleration of our differences and belief in equal political rights and equal opportunity.”

These ideals and principles, Reich says, are not political, at least not in the partisan sense; to affirm them is not to take sides in debates between Democrats and Republicans.

I am sure that people of varying political stripes can easily agree that things like safety, health, shelter, education, and freedom are all social goods worth pursuing. But what happens when two of these goods conflict with each other? Or when there are two or three or 500 different ideas of how to attain one of these highly desirable ends?

It might be that the real obstacle to rallying around a common good is that it will likely require each of us to sacrifice something. And as our current climate shows us, Americans are not terribly good at – or even very willing to – sacrifice.

When Jesus taught his disciples the words of what we now call The Lord’s Prayer, he included the line, “… thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” That phrase helps us see that God’s kingdom is that place where the common good is the watchword of every citizen and where people understand that none of us is well until all of us are well.

Sometimes I confess to feeling as if we are moving further and further away from that vision instead of coming closer. When one nation says, “America first!” and another says, “Italy first!” and another says, “India first!” I can’t help but wonder if we are, in fact, pronouncing the death sentence to any consideration of the common good.

The way Hollywood dramatizes one solution to this issue is by having earth invaded by vicious, city-stomping aliens. As our collective future is suddenly thrown into dire jeopardy, everyone lays down his or her partisan flag and bands together to save the planet!

Maybe it won’t come to that.

Maybe there will be an invasion by the Holy Spirit instead.

[1]The Independent, Feb. 2, 2015




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