I wanted to show "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" to the teen group tonight, as a back-to-school treat, but we couldn't borrow a copy in time.
Here's a clip from the movie anyway (I'm also celebrating our new unlimited internet access, which allows us to watch video now—thanks to Steve's expertise and leadership in laying over a half mile of fiber optic cable!).
I wanted to show "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" to the teen group tonight, as a back-to-school treat, but we couldn't borrow a copy in time.
In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
And what shoulder and what art
Could massage the sinews of thy heart?
This afternoon we have retreat guests arriving!
Last fall I stepped back from the leadership discussions here, mostly because it seemed they could end only in the usual form of leadership, elected and empowered by the people. But that collapsed. And the need for leadership is even greater now (and it's hard to see where it might come from). I wonder if folks might be more open to leadership without authority, at least without humanly-granted authority. Perhaps a decentralized leadership by volunteers. If so, I'd be willing to help.
I've seen them perch for a moment on the clothesline sometimes. I guess even hummingbirds need a break once in a while.
She ran her fingers through his thick hair and scratched the back of his head. He smiled at her. He liked that.
"Good boy," she cooed, "you're a good old dog."
"But unfortunately you have good old dog breath, too." She wrinkled her nose. "Too many meat by-products." Then she moved around behind the big dog and her hands began to work the strong muscles of his shoulders and back. There was still a lot of raw animal power there. And when his large head swung around with its long, jagged rows of teeth, it still inspired a healthy respect. But his fearsome days were over. He slept most of the time now, and when he did get up, it was always a struggle. "But you always get up for me, boy, don't you?" He flashed a wolfish grin at her.
Tomorrow he was supposed to die. Be killed. Though her father always chose to say they were having the dog "put down." She didn't see how that changed anything. She scratched behind his ears and tears came to her eyes. He had been part of their family since she was four―how could they kill him? He was in pain, they said. But he never whined, even when he fell; he always got up and wagged when she came home; he danced around like a puppy when they filled his dish; and he still loved taking a walk, even though he couldn't go far. He still strained at the leash when a squirrel appeared. Strained for life. How could they destroy that?
He was sprawled out now, relaxed by her massage. Then with a twist he was on his back, presenting his fuzzy belly for a rub. She smiled. Her father said she was selfish for wanting to keep him alive any longer. But she didn't feel selfish. And she wasn't asking them to "keep him alive"―just not kill him. She didn't want any special operations or expensive drugs. But why not let him strain at life's leash as long as he wanted to? Why send him away, when he wanted to stay with them?
Her father came into the living room and she turned away, not wanting him to see her crying. "Oh, hi honey," he said. She got up and left the room.
She had to get out. Grabbing her keys, she fled the house and jumped into her beat-up car. Squealed away from the curb. But then she didn't know where to go. She needed to talk to someone, but her thoughts felt too heavy, too adult, to lay before her teenage friends. And she was sure they couldn't answer her questions. Then she noticed she was on her way to the facility where her grandmother lived.
Gramma invited her in without any questions and put on some water for tea. She plopped down on the ugly sofa. "Why do they have to kill him?" she cried. "I mean, I know he's gonna die, everything dies, but he's not dead yet, he's old but he's still alive, you should have seen him just now, he still wants to live, I mean, just look at how he eats, he gulps it down... God! Why do they have to kill him?" She looked at her grandmother, her eyes pleading.
"Because they can't bear to watch him die," said the old woman.
She frowned at that. "What?"
"It's easier to kill him than watch him die," Gramma said softly. "Dead is not so bad. It's the dying we're so afraid of." The old woman went into the kitchen, leaving her to puzzle over that.
When her grandmother returned with the teapot and two flowered cups, she asked softly, "What do you mean, Gramma?"
Her grandmother's lips tightened. "People don't want to see dying. Just look around. They hide it away in places like this place; get the dying out of our homes and our hospitals and hide it in nursing homes and hospices. It's dreadful, really. I have a private apartment here, for now, so it's not so bad. But I've seen where they'll move me if I can't take care of myself anymore. It's not very nice, even if they decorate it pretty and everyone smiles all the time. How could it be? It's a death house." Her grandmother's hand trembled pouring the tea, and her voice softened. "But it gets the dying out of sight. For everyone except us."
She was speechless. Then Gramma noticed her eyes. "Oh, dear, it's not your fault. I got carried away―I'm sorry... Tell me about your dog."
She told how her father explained it, how he said it was compassion, to spare the dog's suffering. "But the dog never complains! If he's suffering, he's taking it better than anyone I've seen. You know, maybe you're right. Maybe it's our suffering he really wants to spare. Dad even said it was his duty. I hate that word!" She fell into an angry silence as Gramma watched and sipped her tea.
Then the old woman put down the cup. "Why don't you bring him here?"
She looked up at her grandmother, who seemed to be completely serious, and she didn't know how to respond. "We're not supposed to keep pets," her grandmother continued, "but no one comes in here. And there's always dogs around, for pet therapy or when relatives bring them for a visit. We could just take him out when you're here. Do you think you could come before and after school to walk him a little? I think I could handle the rest." Gramma was serious. All she could think to say was "He's gonna get worse...."
The old woman smiled. "Yes, I know, he's dying. Like the rest of us here. It's not pleasant, but it's not all bad, you know. I've even come to see that dying is an important part of living, do you believe that? If we're not willing to die, we can't really live. Did you know it even says that in the bible? But there I go again. So what do you think? Are you willing to be with him even though he's dying?"
No one was home when she got back. And with some peanut butter on her fingers it was easy to coax her old friend onto the back seat of her car. Then she tossed in his leash and dish and bag of Healthy Chunks dog food and they made their escape.
The last thing Gramma had said was that when her father started demanding answers she should tell him to call his mother.
There are more stories like this one here: (very) short stories
I think this article brings out the more fundamental problem underlying the "accepting homosexual people in church" issue (and also the "women's leadership in church" issue, among many others): The Institution. This issue is only a problem in the institution we call "church." All the seemingly impossible complexities and power struggles involved do not exist in the Body of Christ itself.
Note these lines, where the institutional church issues are clearly apparent:
"Complicating matters for the church, the leadership and the conference was the matter that my [recently "outed" lesbian] colleague was the first woman to be licensed by the our regional conference...."Challenges of membership, leadership (and "licensing"), and church politics do not exist in the Body of Christ, but only in our institutions. Struggles about who sets church policy or who defines sin do not exist in the Body. None of us are in power in the Body, none of us decide what is sin, none of us decide who is in and who is out.
"I have also experienced betrayal at another level.... The pastoral team leader was a person who also advocated tolerance for gays and lesbians in the church. He was also a seminary professor and knew the cost of disclosing his personal position. When he was asked by the church board to lead the process, he turned to me and asked me if I would lead the process...."
"The process for the church came to an end with a decision to agree to disagree and that we would consider the issues of membership on a case by case basis..."
The "homosexuality" question being discussed here is not primarily about sexuality. It is about authority and power. An institutional authority and power that Jesus avoided altogether. We have created these impossible situations by institutionalizing ourselves, and no "new way of talking about it" will get us free.
But the Body of Christ is already free. If we were living as Jesus did (as members of his Body now), then homosexual people would have no basis for complaining about exclusion or oppression. And we would not be struggling to find a way to "let them in." The Body is Christ's.
Yesterday, on our last day with the teens in Chicago, we visited Jesus People USA. A 400-member Christian community that lives in a huge old hotel building, runs several homeless shelters, and is a refuge for many folks who don't fit in elsewhere, including a number of artists and musicians.
The guy who gave us a tour is in a band called Leper (the name fits their style of music pretty well). Here's some pictures of them performing.
4. The kingdom of God appears now as distinct, organized communities. That saying of Jesus in Luke 17 that I've quoted twice now was spoken when the Pharisees asked him when the kingdom of God was coming. Jesus answered:
"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 your midst." (Lk 17.20-21)That last phrase has also been translated "the kingdom of God is among you." Which suggested that the kingdom of God was already present, already among them, appearing in the lives of Jesus and his followers. But Jesus' words about it not coming "with signs to be observed" are curious. And he said that we couldn't point to it and say "there it is!" What kind of kingdom could this be?
Those who insist that the kingdom of God must exist as distinct, organized communities of people usually want to emphasize that the kingdom is not merely "internal" or "individual," but exists enfleshed in people and their real, visible love for one another. And they are right about that. The kingdom of God exists as real people, wherever the followers of Jesus stand, and these people are not alone or isolated but are connected by real relationships, demonstrated by real acts of love, and truly united in the one kingdom that Jesus has established and invited us into.
But the fact that it is one kingdom challenges the idea that it appears as the distinct Christian communities and organizations that we see, which are not all united. And the fact that the kingdom of God has one King (and is God's kingdom) also challenges the "kingdom" claims of the many communities that we see organized under many different leaders and leadership structures, with membership and group identities determined by the human beings who have organized those communities. The actual all-too-human history of our organizations also makes it clear that these are not themselves the kingdom that Jesus announced. (Even the community of Jesus' twelve disciples included a traitor.) We can certainly point to a Christian organization or intentional community and say "there it is!" But what we cannot say is that any of them are the kingdom of God, or that the kingdom must appear in such distinct, organized communities.
Jesus once said, "The kingdom of God is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened." (Mt 13.33) I think this describes well the nature of the kingdom of God, mixed in among the people of the world, effecting its influence in small, often unnoticed ways, like leaven. We are not able to point to a distinct, clearly organized group and say "there is the kingdom of God," but it does exist among us. Mixed in with our organizations and communities, but not defined or ruled by them or limited by their borders. Coordinated not by any human board of directors or organizational structure, but by God's one, all-permeating Spirit. And made up of those who truly follow Jesus in his kingdom life, bound together by love in the real relationships that connect and unite all the children of God.
"The kingdom of God is among you." Its boundaries are not distinct, nor its organization obvious, but it is real and the life of those in it is miraculous, just as Jesus' life was. And that life of the kingdom of God can be ours now. Not by our own long and difficult work, but as a free, undeserved gift from God.
(The whole essay can be downloaded as a RTF file here.)
The next two common misconceptions about the kingdom of God focus more on its appearance (or lack of appearance) in the world. But these also seem to describe something much less than the kingdom Jesus announced.
3. The kingdom of God is present now only "in our hearts." This idea may have been drawn from Luke 17.21, which some have translated: "The kingdom of God is within you." And an "internal" kingdom does seem to explain why we don't see more evidence of the kingdom that Jesus announced.
But people did see and experience ample evidence of the kingdom of God in their midst at Jesus' time. People were healed, uneducated men spoke the deepest truths of God, and Jesus and his disciples lived amazing, miraculous lives. When Jesus sent out his disciples, he told them:
"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)Wherever they were, there the kingdom of God appeared in actual physical reality and spiritual power. They healed and taught and were fed and protected by the incredible power of God. And because of that power, the usual human limitations and social demands no longer controlled them; the upside-down kingdom existed where they stood, inside and all around them.
If that is not our experience, perhaps the reason is not that the kingdom can only exist now "in our hearts," but that we are not following Jesus like his disciples did, receiving God's kingdom with utter trust and faith, "as a child."
2. We are partners with God in the hard work of "building the kingdom of God." Again, I'm not exactly sure where this concept came from. Harkness even points out that the language of "building the kingdom" is unbiblical, but she still seems to emphasize our "efforts" and "working" and "struggle to create a new and divine order." And these ideas also seem very apparent in the Christian social justice movement. But I hear Jesus proclaiming the good news that the kingdom is God's gift to us. In the startling announcement of Jesus that "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand," and also in its final complete revelation, God's kingdom is clearly God's work, given to us. The writer of Revelation even uses the image of the kingdom of God as a city coming down from heaven (Rev 21). Whether we accept this prophecy as literal or figurative, the message seems clear: The future, full realization of God's kingdom will also be a gift from God. Not human work at all, but God's work, given to us:
[As the city was coming down] He who sat upon the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new."Relentless human effort, political struggle, and the burden of responsibility (for "building the kingdom") is very obvious in Christian activism. Overwhelming workloads and burn-out are common. Is this what Jesus called us to? Is this the good news of the kingdom of God, that we must work and struggle for years (centuries?) to build it? Compared to this, Jesus' actual words sound like incredibly good news:
...And he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the fountain of the water of life without payment." (Rev 21.5-6, my italics)
"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 efforts or through our struggling. It's offered to us now if we will receive it as God's work, God's gift, for God's glory. As Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." (Mk 10.15)
"The kingdom of God is among you"
Four misconceptions about the kingdom Jesus announced
How Does the Kingdom [of God] Come? 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...This statement appeared in Beliefs That Count, a book published in 1961 by Georgia Harkness, a prominent theologian in the Methodist church. It was used for adult Christian education. That was a while ago, but I find its description of the coming of God's kingdom quite contemporary, using images that I've noticed again and again while talking with Christians from a variety of backgrounds, Presbyterian, Catholic, Mennonite, and others. This statement also clearly illustrates two common misconceptions about the kingdom that Jesus announced.
1. The kingdom of God is coming slowly, gradually. I´m not quite sure where this idea originated. It may have been influenced by the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a popular Catholic theologian and paleontologist in the mid-1900s, whose theology was heavily influenced by the scientific evidence and theories about evolution. The idea also fits well with the ongoing work for social progress, which has had great success achieving scientific, technological, political, and economic improvements in small steps, over a long period of time.
But Jesus seemed to speak of the kingdom of God in a more immediate way, announcing that the long-awaited time of God's kingdom had arrived:
"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand." (Mk 1.15)This was (and is) startling good news, almost unbelievably good news. But Jesus´ amazing life demonstrated that something incredible was actually happening, that the kingdom of God was real and present. And he was inviting all of us into it, if we would only follow him. The life of the kingdom, the life that was seen in Jesus, could be ours—now. This announcement makes any ideas about a kingdom coming slowly and gradually seem like nothing in comparison, much less than the reality that Jesus demonstrated and offered us.
"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 your midst." (Lk 17.20-21)
And if "slowly and gradually" refers to the fulfillment of the kingdom of God at 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)?