Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The hypocritical hypocrite is hypocritical (Long Beach Grand Prix)

So... there are many reasons to point out my hypocrisy.  I am no where near where I desire to be in my discipleship.  But it was interesting my reactions to some stuff this last weekend during the Grand Prix of Long Beach:

I live in Long Beach, as many of you may know.  And I hate that damn race, for many many reasons.  Some of the less consequential ones are that it makes traffic bad, even further away where I live, as people need to come down through my neighborhood to get out of Long Beach.

The noise, all day long the screaming of engines.  I am two miles away and it was this constant droning noise, I hated it.

But the more serious issues:

The incredible waste of fuel for what really is no more than entertainment

The incredible damage to our environment for again, what is actually no more than entertainment.

The celebration of sponsors and the plastering of logos everywhere as we worship at the altar of consumerism.

But the worst part is the displacing of homeless people.  To  their credit there are many organizations that try and help these friends of mine during this weekend.  But the common practice is to give them tickets at every opportunity all year round.  Guess what, they cannot pay the tickets, and often do not have the ability to even show up at the court.  They turn into warrants.  Then during the Grand Prix, or the Marathan, or July 4th they go round them up and put them in jail for the weekend so they don't put our city in a bad light.

This race does bring business to our city, and provide at least temporary jobs, but over all I hate it.

As I was sitting in my self righteousness, smoking a cigar and reading a book in the sun I realized...

If someone asked me if I wanted to drive one of those cars...

I would be in that driver seat faster than you can say, "what a f'n hypocrite"


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How therefore shall we live? (last question in my series)

4) Finally, I wanted to ask what it means to live this stuff out.  Are there different approaches for Kingdom living?  How do we work on becoming a part of God's Kingdom?  Any thoughts or advice you have would be great.  

Well this is the issue isn't it?  How do we do this?  If you ask me how does my community live this out I would have to answer honestly... not very well, but we are trying to get better.

There are many different approaches, and many different avenues.  What we have decided to do is to go down a weird hybrid of the house church network, and the intentional community path.  Others have chosen to focus on intentional community and monastic practice, while everyone attends different churches.  Some have chosen to stay completely committed to their denominational church, or the Catholic church while practicing radical community and social justice like the Catholic worker communities.  Some have decided to continue their work in the midst of the city, or the suburbs.  Some have decided to move out of the mainstream and try to live off the grid.

The issues are so very complex, that it is never easy to make a clear answer to what should anyone do.  We can hardly figure out what we should do, which makes it very ridiculous to give much advice to others.  But we have learned some principles that have helped us along the way.  The first is that we need to realize that we are stronger, wiser and more complete as a group than as individuals.  We should spend the time to talk, to discuss, to sit in silent waitfulness, and then to make a decision as a group.  I even let my group decide which speaking engagements I should take, or even if I should take a long vacation.  Why? because I can figure out lots of reasons to make my own desires sound the most efficient and credible path, I need others that are just as committed to the path to help me figure it out.

A perfect example is worship.  We meet on Monday nights for a communal meal, and a discussion or some kind of reflection upon the scriptures.  There are mostly Christian people (though from radically different perspectives), but a few non-theists that are with us regularly.  So we talked about worship as something we would like to consider a part of our regular practice without being alienating towards those that don't recognize a personal deity.  We talked about it, and came up with this idea:  We can all realize the good that comes from being thankful, and from appreciating the wonder and beauty we see in life.  So let us take time to reflect and share about things we are thankful and in awe of as a regular part of our time together.  It is all about learning to grow together.

The best advice I could give is that we first need to recognize the upside down nature of all Jesus says.  Don't take revenge, forgive.  Don't seek for security, but trust.  Don't seek fortune, but be stupidly generous.  Do not accept injustice, but resist it non violently even if it means your death.  It is not the people that are most talented, wealthy, or holy that are blessed but those that learn to serve the poor, the marginalized, the sinners the heretics, the sick, the imprisoned ect. is completely at odds with how this world operates

Secondly we need to recognize we have a whole system that is built to teach us, to pull us, to push us and threaten us to continue in the hierarchical structure of oppression.  Whether it is the lies of consumerism, or the fear of violence from bad men, everything in our society is designed to support the structure of power and hierarchy.

And then realizing these first two, we must also realize that we need a community to both live an alternative to this hierarchy, and to see clearly how we must address the needs of our current world, thinking both globally and locally if possible.  It is in these communities that we practice the ideals that the world needs in order to move past the hierarchy of power and wealth.  But it is also in these communities that we figure out how to live as a community to address some of these issues in ourselves and our neighborhood.  It would be my goal in our "network" that we would have many small groups that have different flavors of the revolution.  Some might be more concerned with economic justice, some with restorative justice through the penal system, others might be focused on racial reconciliation, others might have radical anti war and non violence activists, ect.  That we would all support, and encourage one another in all of these kingdom tasks, as well as be educated by each other as to how our everyday lives can help us to address these concerns.

I have an amazing vision of several community houses that take in those in need, that share food, and that grow it as well.  Of small groups that meet in homes to eat together and learn how they can begin the journey towards a new way of being human, living in this kingdom of God.  Of places where people can come to learn trades, good work, work with integrity and value.  Building things, growing things, helping people rather than just making money for its own sake.  Of studios where we can practice the creativity that is in each of us, making art and healing in the process.  I have a vision of a group of people that are as committed to each other as they are to changing the world.  I am a dreamer, I have lived 45 years, suffered much failure, little success, and quite a bit of ridicule, yet I still believe.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Question 3: Kingdom of God?

3) Another thing that's come up recently is what the Kingdom of God means.  I used that phrase a few times in my blog, and didn't realize that others might hear it very differently than I do.  What does the Kingdom mean for non-believers?  How do people who are trying to set it up here on earth share the Kingdom, or even the Kingdom work, with those who don't believe in God?  Should the goal of Christians be to convert them so that they can be saved, and share in this Kingdom?

So... this really is one of the most important parts of this whole discussion.  What does the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven mean?  It is the essence of almost everything Jesus said, it is what the parables are meant to illustrate.  A good friend of mine suggests that from a marketing stand point, if you were to break Jesus' message down into a bumper sticker it would be "the kingdom of God is in your midst".

Now there have been countless volumes written about the kingdom of God, or heaven (Matthew uses this phrase more often).  I could not and will not come close to touching all of the intricacies of exactly what it means, and how it effects us.  I will offer up some very basic understandings of what I have learned over the years, and what I believe to be true.

First off it is important to look at the word kingdom.  The word kingdom doesn't have a very modern ring to it.  When we think of kings and queens we are just as likely to think of knights and dragons and damsels in distress, as we are to think of the royal family in England with all of their scandal and opulence.  But for us the understanding of kingdom would not really have a very concrete meaning.  It would have had a more concrete meaning when it was originally translate into English however.  But what is interesting is the word used for kingdom in the scriptures, was not the word kingdom, it was the word empire.  And in Jesus time, this word would have had huge implications.  As the empire was quite literally the oppressive super power government that was in charge of the known world at that time.  Jesus begins talking about an empire that belongs to God, not Caesar.  An altogether different political reality than the one that existed.  And what is even more revolutionary is Jesus seems to say that this kingdom is here in His person, but is also to be lived out, and also coming.  We will get to this a bit more later

Now we have to contextualize things.  What exactly would Jesus mean in our day and age?  We don't really talk about kingdoms, nor is the idea of empire really one that we understand much since the hey day of the English Empire (though many rightly point out the empirical nature of the United States).  If Jesus were speaking to us today what word would he use instead of empire? As an American I would suggest two different terms.  Those of you in other countries can apply your own contextualization.  I think nation, would be a possible word in America.  Since America as a nation is a cultural melting pot to some extent it could work.  So Christ could talk to us today about the nation of God.  But I think a better phrase in todays world, would focus on the worldwide global economy.  I think that the global economy actually is more of the "powers that be" than even the mega power US.   So Jesus would speak to us today about the "economy of God"

So Jesus comes into the world speaking of the economy of God, he then explains it and lives it.  It is not a future tense destination, but a journey towards the ultimate reality.  It begins in Him. It is looking at the way God means things to be, and beginning to live like God's will is reality, even in the phase face of the economy of the world.  And it affects everything.  Economy is essentially about power, and value.  In todays world the stories of Jesus would be incredibly subversive.  They would speak about the idea that in God's economy it is those that are undervalued, that have the greater value in God's.  It would talk about the injustice that keeps those that are more powerful on top of those that have no resource to grasp power.  And just like Jesus quite literally did in his time, would say in our time, "you cannot live in the worlds economy, and in God's, as God's economy does not value the same things, so get rid of your economic comforts and follow me into a new world of sharing, and forgiving, and loving even those that might try and harm your economic status through an oil monopoly"  What Jesus tells us is stories that explain how Gods desires for our world, can and must be lived out here and now, as a prophetic act of faith.  It's ties to the future is simply this, in the redemption of all things, this is how we will live... so believing this is true we will start living in this reality here and now.

I personally believe that the disciples did not believe all of the things we say are essential Christian doctrine until much later.  But they began to walk with Jesus, and take part in that ideal of the economy of God.  They were called disciples for beginning to walk in "the way" so why do we think conversion is the necessary first step?  Lets walk together and live out this kingdom (which by the way is pretty much the teachings of all the major religions, and thoughtful secular humanism) and leave conversion up to God.  It is my hope that everyone believes as I believe, as I find much comfort, and joy and challenge in it, but that does not mean I cannot work with others, nor does it mean that my ulterior motive is to convert them.

Ultimately I think we need to follow the example of Jesus.  Jesus pulled together a community of very diverse people, and began to live out the kingdom.  His words and teachings had power and authority because of the integrity of his life.  When you live what you say, it matters.  Jesus lived, in this community, an ethic that said the people who are considered least valuable... these will be our friends, and focus.  The people that are not only considered most valuable, but hold that value with deceit and violence we will call to repentance.  We will care for the sick, we will share our resources with each other, we will not engage in us and them mentality.  We will practice non violent resistance towards oppressors.  And most of all we will live a life of love.  It is my belief that we need everyone who is willing to join us in this new economy, regardless of "spiritual" belief system.


Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Question number 2 in my interview with Larry

2) Another question people have asked, and that maybe ties in, is the idea that Anarchy means chaos, lawlessness, and rebellion against the established order.  A few people have asked me how that can be compatible with the kind of communities you've been a part of, which seem to be about loving and serving those who have been marginalized by society.  

There is a difference between a Christian anarchy and a non Christian one, though not always, and I will get into that.  But before we do we must look at what anarchy is and isn't.  Anarchy, as a word, means against the powers.  It does not mean chaos, lawlessness or no order.  Anarchy means simply a stand against systems and structures of power. 

There are many different ways in which this belief is manifested.  There are some that believe we need to go back to more tribal, live off the land nomadic lifestyles.  There are some that believe we should have a communistic, or socialistic economy, with an anarchic structure of governance.  Some would say that true democracy (as opposed to representation democracy) is anarchy.  But the idea is that the power resides either in the individual, or in the community, not in certain individuals whether elected or chosen in some other manner.

Then we get to the manner in which this should come to pass.  There are in an oversimplified view three ways:
Overthrow the established order
Work within the established order for change
Ignore the established order and become "off the grid" as much as possible

Which brings me to my beliefs about a Christ centered, and biblical anarchy.  I believe that Christian anarchy focuses on a few ideas that address the above comments in a unique way.  This does not mean all forms of non Christian anarchy cannot address them in similar ways however, nor that we have a different practice.  

As I have followed Jesus, and studied the scriptures I find that we are called to live in a covenanted community.  One that is covenanted to the ideals of Jesus, and the belief that love, and the holy spirit can guide us towards correct living.

That we are to live in a tension that says we are not here to overthrow the powers that be, but to basically live an alternative to them.  To stand against the injustice and pain caused by them.  And to offer a refuge from them to those trampled under its machine.

As a covenanted community we are told that withing the community dwells the power to "bind and loose".  Which in ancient times was the application of laws, punishment, retribution and forgiveness.  This means that the power does not reside in a hierarchy, in "the professionals" or the "leaders".  But that small groups, of people covenanted to look out for one another, to follow Jesus, and to stand against the powers, can through discussion, and action/reflection, support one another in "figuring it out".  That we provide a mechanism for working out issues between members, and living a life of forgiveness and mercy, rather than punitive justice.  This is not disorderly, nor is it always efficient, but it is good.  This recognizes that some might actually be gifted leaders, but these leaders are situational, not positional. And that these leaders would be just as submitted to the covenant as the others.

So a Christian anarchy would say that any system or structure, (including the religious or church structures), that holds power over others, is to be rejected and stood against.  That we live an alternative based upon the teachings of the non violent, and liberating Jesus.  That we practice anti hierarchical living, which prioritizes those that are on the bottom of the powers hierarchy.  That we see the spiritual force behind those powers that seem invisible, like greed, and consumerism, and retribution, and amidst those powers we stand firm in opposition.

Please feel free to ask any questions, or help me to clarify what I have said so that it can be more widely understood.