4.28.2005

Physician, heal thyself

(I just finished this story, which was inspired by my recent thoughts on fruitfulness.)

“I’ll have a look at him,” he said wearily, dropping his pen on the unfinished paperwork and getting up again. “But he’s the last one today. If I don’t get these reports out we could lose our funding.”

The nurse looked relieved. “Thank you, doctor.”

The patient was in a wheelchair; he’d seen the man here at the clinic before. Muscular dystrophy. Not much they could do about that. But he didn’t understand why the man didn’t at least have a power chair; Medicaid paid for things like that. Apparently his wife didn’t mind pushing him around. “Hello, Mr. Johns. Kelly wants me to have a look at your leg... How long has it been like this?”

“About a week, but it’s not bothering me. I’m just here to reassure my wife.”

He adjusted the light and took a long look at the reddened area. “Kelly also says she thought she saw something… unusual in the waiting room just now. Between you and Mrs. Parker?” He paused. “Did you see Mrs. Parker—she’s also in a wheelchair, early 50s, dark hair—did you talk to her?”

“Yes.”

“Just now.”

“Yes.”

He eyed Mr. Johns. “What happened?”

“What did the nurse tell you?”

He hesitated, staring warily at the man in the chair. “She said Mrs. Parker got up and left.”

Mr. Johns just looked at him and nodded. He took a deep breath and leaned over the man’s leg again, touching it lightly this time. “Does that hurt?”

“No. I think it’s getting better; it just takes things a long time to heal, with my poor circulation.”

“Yes, I don’t think it’s anything to worry about,” he agreed. Then added, “But you must be mistaken about Mrs. Parker. She’s paraplegic; she’s never going to walk again. You must have her confused with someone else.” He pulled down the man’s pant leg and lowered the leg rest into its normal position. Then he straightened up and smiled. “Come back, though, if this gets worse.”

“Yes. Thank you.”

He turned to go. But the man’s voice stopped him at the door. “Mrs. Parker has been coming here to Bethesda clinic for many years,” Mr. Johns said slowly. “It just seemed like she’d been waiting long enough. Don’t you agree?”

He turned and studied the man sitting there. “What are you suggesting? That you healed her?”

“Is that what the nurse told you?”

“That seems to be her conclusion. She’s mistaken, of course…”

Mr. Johns smiled. “Of course. No, I didn’t heal her, doctor.” The man’s gaze fell to his lap, then rose again quickly. “God did.”

He shifted Mr. Johns’ file to his other hand, and sighed. “Look, I don’t have time for this. I’ve got a lot to do.” He turned again to leave.

“God has also healed your daughter, doctor,” Mr. Johns said. “You should go see her.”

He froze, confused. Then turned back, anger rising within him. “I’m not sure what kind of game you’re playing, but it’s not funny.”

“It’s not meant to be funny,” the man replied calmly. “You look tired, doctor. You should leave the rest of your work for tomorrow and go visit your daughter right now. She’s waiting for you.”

He stared hard at Mr. Johns, then laughed. “You can’t expect me to believe any of this. I mean… I don’t mean to be rude… but look at you. If you really are what you’re pretending to be, why are you still sitting there in that chair?” He took two steps and looked down at his patient again. “For that matter, why not heal all those people out there? Why just Mrs. Parker? Do you see what I’m saying? It doesn’t make any sense.”

Mr. Johns considered that a moment before replying.



He managed to wait two days before going to see Sophie. To prove to himself he wasn’t going because Johns told him to, but just because it had been too long since his last visit with his daughter. The psychiatric hospital depressed him. He cringed inside every time the wide door to the locked ward fell shut behind him. His daughter should not be here. And he hated to see her like this, drugged into submission; sometimes he briefly wondered if the unpredictably violent Sophie hadn’t been better. At least she spoke then—as loud as she could. Now she just sat there. Looking at him.

When he entered her room she was sitting on the bed and her hair was neatly combed. Which was unusual for Sophie. Her hair had been the only remaining sign of the girl he remembered, the only part of her they had not been able to tame. But as he approached the bed he noticed the comb was in her own hand. He looked questioningly into her eyes. And saw there the usual medicated haze, but also something else—was it a light? She smiled. He stopped, staring at the girl who had once been his daughter and then was not. Then he heard her voice again.

“Daddy,” she said softly, the light in her eyes flaring. “You have got to get me out of here. These people are control freaks!”

He made an appointment with Sophie’s doctor and promised her he’d return the next day. Then she kissed him. He was so surprised, he practically ran out of the hospital. It was impossible; he wanted it too much to trust his own judgment, and how could it possibly have happened? Johns had told him how it happened. But that was ridiculous—this was a man who claimed his disease had made him a healer. Okay, not exactly, but isn’t that what it amounted to? “The weaker I got, the more I felt it rising up in me.” Which was also Johns’ reason for not healing himself. And for not wanting to pack stadiums and go on TV like those famous so-called “faith healers.” “My power is made perfect in weakness.” So the man would rather be unknown and so poor he has to go to a free clinic to see a doctor. None of it made sense. Johns was the one who should be in the psychiatric hospital.

But he found himself making an unplanned stop at the clinic on the way home. To get Mrs. Parker’s address. Then he drove the few blocks to her house, not knowing what he would do when he got there. He didn’t have to do anything. Mrs. Parker was out in front of her house, planting some flowers. As he passed, she turned and waved. He waved back.



It was three years before he saw Mr. Johns again. Mrs. Johns pushed him in, babbling that she’d wanted to call 911 but her husband insisted on being brought to the clinic. It looked like Johns was dying. The man was so weak he could barely take a breath. His first impulse was to call 911 himself since the clinic was not equipped to handle this, but before he could move, Mr. Johns fell forward and he lunged to catch the dying man.

Then he heard one word, in a low rasp.

“Sophie?”

He looked into Mr. Johns’ eyes and was caught for a moment. Then he nodded. “Yes, she’s home… I tried to find you, but your file….” He saw Mr. Johns’ smile fade as the man struggled to take another breath. “No!” he whispered frantically. “Don’t let this happen! Get up!” Then he stepped back from the dying man. “I can’t help you. Please! Why won’t you get up? I work so hard here but… I can’t… But you, you could change it all… Get up!” He grabbed Mr. Johns’ shoulders, and the man spoke again.

“Unless a grain… falls… and dies…”

Then the voice sounded different. “But if it dies it produces much...It sounded stronger, though the blue-tinged lips didn’t seem to be moving anymore. But there was life in the eyes that held his. “You think, ‘If I work hard enough…’ But there’s too many Mrs. Parkers left waiting. And your own daughter, sitting there looking at you. And then you begin to doubt you’re the man you think you are, the man they say you are...

“Who told you that you’re the doctor?”

He stared at Mr. Johns for several minutes, though he was sure the man was dead. He stood up slowly. Then he was moving towards the door, someone calling after him, “Doctor? Doctor!”

“I’m not feeling well,” he mumbled and pushed the door open.

The sun was bright and hot. Waves of heat danced on the pavement, forming mirages in the dead air. He looked out into the parking lot and down the street. No movement, no life. Unless a grain falls and dies… He took a hot breath and stepped out. But he stopped abruptly when he reached his shiny car, every surface reflecting the blazing sun. My power is made perfect in weakness. Taking off his stethoscope, he gently laid it on the gleaming hood, and turned towards home.

It would be a long walk, he thought.

4.27.2005

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4.26.2005

moses

You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron. (Ps 77.20)

Reading Psalm 78 the other morning, I realized that Moses is a good example of a leader who stayed focused on the "one thing." A good model for fatherhood, in my opinion. He remains always a prophet, a servant of God, never to be confused with any other type of worldly leader. His call is to listen to God and trust him and help the people do so as well.

And there was no illusion that Moses was leading or providing for these people. God was the leader and provider. Moses merely listened and spoke what he heard from God. Of course, the people complained to him, and held him responsible (something I dread as a parent), but he knew that he was merely mediating the relationship between the people and God:

And the whole congregation of the people of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and said to them, "Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger."

Then the LORD said to Moses, "Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you..." So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, "At evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your murmurings against the LORD. For what are we, that you murmur against us? ...Your murmurings are not against us but against the LORD." (Ex 16.2-8)

That's something I can see myself doing. Helping others (friends, wife, children) understand what God is doing and encourage them to trust and obey that, and also intercede for them before God. Passing along all that I'm given, material and spiritual. And never pretending that I am Father.

I also like how Moses was helping the people on their great pilgrimage...

4.25.2005

simplicity

Thinking about "only one thing," this verse from Psalm 73 came to mind:

Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides thee.

Many Christians claim this, recognizing that this should describe us. But it's rare to see a life that demonstrates this well. Some have tried to live such a single-minded life by withdrawing from other people and most activity, like monks or other types of hermits. They often do this to avoid temptation and help themselves focus on "the one thing." But such renunciation also catches the attention of others, showing them what the monk thinks is important and so directing their attention in that direction as well.

For a similar reason, Paul recommends the single life: "The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided." (1 Cor 7.32-34)

This is really what simplicity of life is about. Not just unburdening ourselves or lowering stress levels, but bringing our lives into a focus on one thing. Moving from scattered-mindedness to single-mindedness. It reminds me of Kierkegaard's book, Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing. And this is not just for ourselves but also for others, because when they notice our attention so intently directed at God, they are prompted to turn and see what's so interesting, so all-consuming.

But is Paul right? Should marriage and family be avoided for the sake of God-directed simplicity? I can certainly see the difficulties that would arise, just as I see it's much harder to remain focused on the one thing when you're in the midst of society (rather than a hermitage). But I've experienced how God can provide the space to live a very focused life outside the cloister, and there seems to be value in having such single-mindedness mixed right in among the world's scattered-mindedness. Perhaps I'll find the same is possible in family life?

4.23.2005

"there is need of only one thing"

At a birthday party last night I saw a guy from our church playing the drums. A guy who was also in a (sold out) dance show last week at the university here, and who is also studying to be an engineer. And he's good at all these things.

I found myself feeling untalented in comparison (which I probably am), but also wondering if I've been wasting my time and life by not doing more, learning more, investing myself in more things. Then I remembered this favorite story:

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me."

But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her." (Lk 10.38-42)

The Greek word translated "better" here (in "Mary has chosen the better part") also could be translated "good," or "joyful"--or "useful." All those would fit Jesus' meaning, I think.

I believe I am choosing that "one thing" to focus my life on (as anyone can, no matter how talented they are, or what opportunities they have). And this is all that is needed. But I think part of the focus on this one thing is doing it in a way that it's obvious to others that our life is focused on this one thing. To draw their attention to this one thing also. Mary does this in the story. Martha's not happy about it--but it does get her attention...

4.15.2005

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4.13.2005

to publish?

I just noticed yesterday that my story Baby killer appeared in SojoMail last month. That's the weekly e-mail from Sojourners magazine (which goes out to about 100,000 people). One of their editors had seen the story in the Shalom Communities newsletter (which Reba Place contributes to), and asked if they could use it. I'm glad to see they did.

This brings up some interesting questions related to "fruitfulness." Is it important to get my work published? Is this something I should pursue?

My initial inclination is "to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself" (as Merton recommended). Which would be to just write (or build or serve) as truthfully, as faithfully, as possible and not worry whether very many people see it or if it is widely appreciated.

I've already firmly set aside the possibility of selling my work. But that still leaves the question of whether I should more actively try to find people to give it to. It makes me think of a time a man was passing out literature in a subway and I said no thanks. He got angry. And challenged me for saying no when I didn't even know what I was saying no to. I thought about that later. Trying to figure out why I did automatically say no. And I think it had something to do with my experience of what it's usually about when people are passing stuff out on street corners or on subways: They want something. Like your business, or donations. Or converts. I don't want to come across like that. Real gifts respond to a need (or desire), and so are wanted and appreciated; they don't push themselves on people.

Like what happened with this story. I think I'll take it as an example of what God can do when I'm not even trying to promote my work or be "successful"...

4.12.2005

being fruitful

The imagery of "bearing fruit" is often used to encourage efforts for productivity. So I thought I'd look at that a little closer. I found John's Gospel especially helpful.

Here, as in many other places, it's clear that we are to bear fruit:

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away... and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned...

"By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples." (Jn 15.1-2,6,8)

But it's not immediately clear what that "fruit" is. It is often assumed to be some kind of ministerial productivity (like books or programs or organizations) or successful results (like growing membership or baptisms or social improvement). But Paul wrote that "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Gal 5.22-23). And these are not so easily produced or measured.

It's also not immediately clear how we are to become more fruitful. Many have sought to apply successful business models to ministry in order to increase their efficiency and productivity. Many seek to gain greater material resources or political support so they can be more effective. But, in John, Jesus describes a very different way to fruitfulness:
"As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." (Jn 15.4-5)
Fruitfulness for God does not come by human effort or human power, Jesus says, but only when we "abide in" him.

Which means stay in contact with him, follow him closely, letting Jesus be in us the same way he was when he walked the earth. But the way he was on earth was not easily understandable. If we look at his early ministry--healing, feeding, teaching--that seems clear to most people. They say, "We can do that!" And run off and start healing (in hospitals) and feeding (with food stamps) and teaching (via TV stations). But that's not how the poor, powerless Jesus did it. So their "fruit" doesn't look much like his. And then if we look at how Jesus walked away from his popularity and turned towards Jerusalem and the cross, those people scratch their heads. Why would he abandon such a productive, thriving ministry?

I think that says a lot about the difference between productivity and Jesus' understanding of fruitfulness. Another passage in John may also be helpful here:
"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." (Jn 12.24)
The way to fruitfulness is the cross. Not power but vulnerability. Not wealth but utter poverty. This is exactly the opposite direction from the business model for effectiveness; if we are pursuing productivity, we will be heading directly away from God's fruitfulness. (With this in mind, the quotes I posted yesterday speak much louder.)

"Abide in me. Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."

4.11.2005

"This is our efficacy."

I had a good visit this weekend with Heather's aunt and uncle, and we talked a lot about my thoughts and what I have been doing. Good conversations, I thought. I appreciated their interest and their patient listening (when most others get pretty quickly agitated and argumentative).

They are about to go to Africa to work against the AIDS epidemic there (in both a medical and missionary capacity). And they are quite excited by the effectiveness of the program they're offering. Heather's uncle also seemed to emphasize to us that we should strive to be productive or fruitful for God. But I'm wary of that. I don't think striving to be productive leads us closer to Jesus, but rather draws us towards increasing our own economic and political power (so we can accomplish more). In the same conversation, I was also asked how I planned to get funding for my future work with the poor...

It reminds me of these quotes I put in my journal two years ago. The first is from a letter by Thomas Merton (written in 1966, three years before his death):

Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.
The second is from John Howard Yoder's The Politics of Jesus:
The key to the obedience of God’s people is not their effectiveness but their patience. The triumph of the right is assured not by the might that comes to the aid of the right, which is of course the justification of the use of violence and the other kinds of power in every human conflict; the triumph of the right, although it is assured, is sure because of the power of the resurrection and not because of any calculation of causes and effects, nor because of the inherently greater strength of the good guys.

The relationship between the obedience of God’s people and the triumph of God’s cause is not a relationship of cause and effect but one of cross and resurrection.
And, last, from Jacques Ellul's The Politics of God and the Politics of Man (the most radical and best statement on this point, in my opinion):
The action we attempt will always be regarded by the world as a failure, and the more so the more it is authentically faithful. We cannot be successful or show the church to be effective in the world unless we adopt the world's criterion of efficacy, which means adopting its means as well.

As the world sees it, action which is faithful to God will always fail, just as Jesus Christ necessarily went to the cross. Such action always leads to a dead end. It is always a fiasco from the standpoint of worldly power. But this should not worry us. It does not mean that our action is in truth ineffectual. Efficacy measured in terms of faithfulness cannot be compared at any point with efficacy measured in terms of success.

...Each time the people of God becomes effective according to the world's criteria, this only implies that society has absorbed our action and is using it for its own ends and for its own profit. ...The efficacy we think we have is simply a power in the world's service, for the perfecting of its own being, for its better organization....

...We have simply to be, and we can only be a question put within the world, a question invincibly confronting it. This is our efficacy. It is the efficacy of the question, a question which society and sociological movements cannot assimilate. Israel and the church have never been efficacious except to the degree that the world has been unable to assimilate them. This is the vocation of the people of God incomparably more authentic than "service" or "works."

It is not at the level of works and their results that this efficacy may be seen; it is at the level of inassimilability.

4.10.2005

pope & dubya

John Paul II was buried Friday. It made me think of this photo of him I clipped a while ago:

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He doesn't have to put up with this stuff anymore...

4.05.2005

strangers and exiles

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come. (Heb 13.14)

The "strangers and exiles" imagery of God's people speaks strongly to me. And it's not just in the New Testament, but throughout the bible. I found this good synopsis online:

The experience of being an alien or sojourner was fundamental to Israel’s early identity. Abraham was called away from kin and familiar land to be a stranger in a new place. In the midst of God’s promises of offspring and land Abraham was told: “Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs...” (Gen 15:13). The notion of being a sojourner or alien was actually embedded in the covenant and was part of what it meant to be the people of Yahweh.

Side by side this theme of Israel’s identity another great theme is juxtaposed, viz. the theme of an itinerant God who calls a group of sojourners in an alien land “my people” and who “…has seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry …” (Ex 3:7). “One thing makes this God different from the divinities found just about everywhere in those days. All those deities were linked to particular places— mountains, rivers, cities, regions— whereas the God that speaks to Abraham is a God who is not tied down to one spot. This God is a sojourner God, a pilgrim God” (Brother John of Taize, The Pilgrim God [a book I read just as I was leaving the Dominicans]). This is a God who refuses to live in a temple, in a fixed space, because this is the God of the tent, the traveller God always ready to guide Israel in its journey (2 Sam 7:1-7). The theme of the migrant God reappears in the New Testament. The author of the fourth Gospel tells us that the Word became flesh and “pitched his tent” among us (Jn 1:14, literally translated).

This is something that is mostly overlooked by Christians. We are so eager to establish ourselves, institute our institutions, "build the kingdom" here on earth. But, while the people of God are certainly visible, and the evidence of the kingdom is seen in God's real, substantial (and miraculous) provision and protection and healing, God's kingdom is for now "passing through." God's people are strangers, pilgrims, on their way to the City not built by human hands.

This pilgrim kingdom is clearly seen in Jesus' ministry. His "church" (literally "assembly") is an itinerant gathering of followers, without their own place or official membership or authority structure. In this way, they are obviously "not of this world." The kingdom cannot be said to be anything other than themselves. Where they are, there is the kingdom of God. As Jesus said when he sent them out:
"Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you; heal the sick in it and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off against you; nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.'" (Lk 10.8-11)
The kingdom comes near when they come near. Because they are the kingdom.

Jesus says the same in his answer when asked when the kingdom of God was coming:
“The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is among you.” (Lk 17.20-21)
Until his second coming, the kingdom is only seen in Jesus' faithful followers. The pilgrim people of God. Yet we seem to be working so hard to make ourselves at home, store up for ourselves every provision and security, build solid and lasting institutions, so we have something to point to and say, "Here it is!"... and in doing so, how are we different from everyone else?

Jesus “pitched his tent” among us. I would like to do the same, without property or office or membership, remaining clearly a pilgrim, a stranger, a passing guest. A question remains, though: Can I do this with a family?

I don't know for sure. But I believe so...

4.04.2005

question everything...

I used this Dilbert to make a birthday card for Kim today (a day late, oops):

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4.02.2005

"yours is..."

I talked about yesterday's thoughts (about the kingdom of God) with my friend, and another good point came up. In contrasting the activists' promise with Jesus' promise, I said:

Jesus spoke of God's kingdom that was available in the midst of poverty and powerlessness, not a kingdom that we could experience once we eliminated poverty and empowered people politically. And Jesus demonstrated this kingdom by becoming (and remaining) poor and powerless himself.
That seems to me markedly different (markedly better) than the message and actions of the Christian activists.

And it reminds me of the sermon on the mount:
Jesus lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." (Lk 6.20)
Notice that this beatitude is present tense: "Yours is the kingdom of God." (In Matthew's version, the last beatitude is similar: "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Mt 5.10) And, far from demonizing poverty and powerlessness, Jesus calls it "blessed" for his disciples who embrace it for his sake.

Another aspect of the kingdom I see in Jesus but not in those who are trying to "build the kingdom of God (on earth)" appeared as I read in Hebrews this morning:
[Our ancestors in faith desired] a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. ...For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come. (Heb 11.16, 13.14)
Our home, not built here, not built by human hands. A city prepared for us.

By God.

4.01.2005

"building the kingdom"?

A friend recently gave me a book to look at, about how faith has inspired many people in the civil rights and social justice movements. I agreed with much of the criticism of the church and I liked much of what had been done by these people. But I kept hearing about "building the kingdom of God" as their motivation. And as the vision they offered. This didn't appeal much to me.

I've heard the idea often before. And I found a concise statement of it online, in an exposition of Methodist beliefs. This isn't just Methodist, though. I've heard it from Catholics as well, and Episcopalians, Mennonites, etc. The question "How Does the Kingdom Come?" is answered: Its creation is a co-operative task involving both God and man. The pattern of a redeemed society is the thought of God. Its achievement is through the spiritual energy imparted by His spirit in human hearts, but its final consummation comes slowly through the joint efforts of God and man, working side by side, in the struggle to create a new and divine order and to make His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

The phrases that stand out (and trouble me) are: "comes slowly," "through the joint efforts of God and man," "in the struggle to create a new and divine order."

They trouble me because they seem to present the kingdom of God as something much less than Jesus preached. They speak of God's kingdom as coming slowly, while Jesus announced:

"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand." (Mk 1.15)

"If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you." (Mt 12.28)

"The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, 'Lo, here it is!' or 'There!' for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you." (Lk 17.20-21)
And if they are referring to Jesus' second coming, why say "slowly" when Jesus said "like lightning" (Mt 24.27) and "suddenly like a snare", with "the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory" (Lk 21.27-35)?

Most importantly to me, Jesus seems to be promising an immediate experience of his kingdom. "The kingdom of God has come upon you." If this is true, then a promise of a kingdom that "comes slowly through the joint efforts of God and man" doesn't sound like very good news in comparison.

The "efforts" and "struggle" and "working" are very apparent in the social justice movement. It fits with the idea of "building the kingdom." But I hear Jesus proclaiming the good news that the kingdom is God's gift to us. Both in the gift of Jesus appearing and announcing "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand," and in the gift of its final apocalyptic revelation, God's kingdom is God's work, given to us. And this isn't just semantics. The political struggle and burden of responsibility (for building the kingdom) is very apparent in Christian activism. Overwhelming workloads and burn-out are common. Is this what Jesus called us to? Is this good news? Compared to this, Jesus' actual words sound like very good news:
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Mt 11.28-30)
God's kingdom isn't built by our work or through our struggling. It's offered to us if we will receive it as God's work, God's gift, for God's glory. "Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." (Mk 10.15)

"Building the kingdom"? No. The kingdom of God is God's work, available now, for those who will receive it as a gift.

That's what I want.