“…Which Evidently is a Long and Difficult Task,” But I Digress.

So….I haven’t blogged since November. There are lots of reasons for that, most of them having to do with time. Even more than those, however, is the simple fact that for the first time in nearly a decade (basically since moving to NE Ohio), I don’t feel alone, and this is a remarkable thing. It was just August when I wrote about, in the ongoing wake of my Dad’s death, feeling more alone than ever. That said, of course I don’t mean alone “alone.” We have a few friends here, after all, that we’ve known for most of our time here, friends who care for us and for whom we very much care in return. Still, there was a time when the path we were on was (or seemed) very close to the one that they were on in various ways. Over time, however, it has become clear that our paths are now moving in different directions. That doesn’t mean we care about those few longtime NE Ohio friends any less (or they us). It just means that as we’ve been constantly searching for a community with whom to be people “on a mission together,” once such a community is finally found and we get to work pursuing that mission, the relationships that are formed within the community as a result of that shared mission naturally become most prominent in our lives. So, all of that is simply my way of saying how thrilled I am to be part of the The Resistance. I sometimes say that during our first decade here (minus our year-and-a-half in TX) it felt a bit like NE Ohio was God-forsaken. I know, of course, that that’s not the case. It’s just how it felt. While there are many wonderful faith communities here doing many wonderful things, including a few that we very much respect and appreciate, none of them afforded us the opportunity to really “be the Church” in a manner consistent with our calling.

I believe whole-heartedly that following Jesus is nearly impossible. It IS impossible, beyond a shadow of a doubt in my mind, if undertaken like an American, which is to say, alone. As I’ve long said, all (or at least many of) those “you” verses in the Bible that describe how we are to live (and love!)  are addressed to you, the community. They’re plural, and they describe how we are to live together, in community. If it takes a village to raise a child, it certainly takes one to follow Jesus and together be his Church. I’m not interested in a faith community that meets once a week to re-charge and have “fellowship,” all for the sake of getting ready to spend another week pursuing the American dream. I yearn and need to be part of a body that has a “life together” each and every day all for the sake of pursuing God’s dream and loving God’s world. So all these years we’ve spent here absent such a community have been very trying and lonely, indeed.

There will be more, no doubt, about the Resistance later. What prompted this little bout of writing, though, was a task I was given. I am very blessed and privileged to have been asked to give a “cross talk” for The Resistance tomorrow night. This will be a chance for me to share a little about my faith journey and why I’m part of the Resistance. As I’ve been reflecting and trying to distill my many “long stories” into a 3 to 5 minute narrative to share, I keep coming back (as I often do) to something that Bart Campolo used to say. I’ve known Bart for almost twenty years (holy cow!) by virtue of my participation in Kingdomworks. I’ve written a lot about my Kingdomworks experience in the past, including this (from this five year old post):

KW (Kingdomworks) brought in college students from all over the country and placed them on teams in inner-city Philly congregations for a summer to live in and serve the neighborhoods in which they were placed by reaching out to the youth. So I was a part of a team of 8 college students, and we ran a day camp, Sunday school, and youth group for the neighborhood kids. Quite simply, of course, it changed my life. I always say that during that summer I was able to “build a bridge between my own personal suffering and the suffering that’s out there- in the world.” I saw some crazy stuff that summer, like a man wailing and lying down on the trolley tracks in front of the church building we slept in, trying to end his life. Apparently I was a magnet for suicidal people as one of the (gay) teens that I was working with started giving me all his stuff and then gave me a suicide note and took off. That’s a long story. Anyway, KW has now become Mission Year as its founder, Bart Campolo, realized that you just couldn’t build the kind of relationships necessary to change a neighborhood in a summer (and for that matter, a year probably isn’t long enough either, which is why he and his family now live in a disadvantged neighborhood in Cincinnati and run an incredible ministry called the Walnut Hills Fellowship). That being said, one of the biggest objects in both KW and Mission Year, I think, was not just to change the lives of the the disadvantaged, often minority folk who lived in the neighborhoods people like me came to serve, but also to change the often rich(er) white folk like myself who came to do the serving. Needless to say, it worked, as a year later I left school without graduating, got married, and moved to Philly.

Anyway, Bart said that he was less interested in why you became a Christian, and more interested in why you are still one. I think this will be the starting point of my talk. I also keep coming back to his infamous article on the “limits of God’s grace,” which someone preserved here. Some, perhaps many, view this piece as heretical in no small part because of the blatant appeal to universalism. Others are more troubled by his approach to Scripture and revelation. Nonetheless, I very much appreciate what Bart had to say and the honesty with which he said it. I know folks who say they don’t need God to be good, that they can live a life of service to others without being motivated by Christian compassion or duty, etc. I personally don’t know many that do so very well, however. Bart may be the exception to that rule, because despite the fact that his struggle with God may have robbed him of any ability of late to call himself a Christian (at least inasmuch as the moniker would be recognizable to most who also use it), Bart nonetheless lives a life of service, love, and community that I find wholly enviable.

Like Bart, I believe that God meant it when he said that it is God’s will that none should perish. Does that make me a universalist? I don’t know. What’s abhorrent is the notion that the God revealed fully and finally in Jesus would consign anyone, for any reason, to eternal torment (which is another reason why it’s helpful for Jesus to be the “lens through which one reads the Bible”). Of course, I don’t think that’s the case and the fact that this discussion is even necessary is one of the major sins of American Evangelicalism in the twentieth century. On this point (the nature of hell, etc.), I defer to Rod White of Circle of Hope, who writes the following here:

In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a story about the end of the age when the sheep are separated from the goats. This is the line that bothers people, even if they have just heard about it: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” This seems to be a reflection of Enoch 10:13 (which did not make it into the Protestant Bible) in which evil angels are locked forever in a prison at the bottom of the fire, the “pit of hell.”

I do not think that God, who absorbed the ultimate violence the world could offer on the cross in Jesus Christ, is waiting around to come again in order to send millions of people to unending judgment – to absorb the ultimate violence he can offer! Yet some people do not want to follow Jesus because they believe the Bible contradicts itself by calling on people to love their enemies, while showing plainly that, in the end, God will condemn his enemies to experience ever-burning fire. Maybe quoting Miroslav Volf again will help with this misunderstanding (I think Exclusion and Embrace is a great book, if you can take dense arguing).

“The evildoers who ‘eat up my people as they eat bread,’ says the Psalmist in God’s name, will be put ‘in great terror’ (Psalm 14:5). Why terror? Why not simply reproach? Even better, why not reasoning together? Why not just display suffering love? Because evildoers ‘are corrupt’ and ‘they do abominable deeds’ (v. 1); they have ‘gone astray,’ they are ‘perverse’ (v. 3). God will judge, not because God gives people what they deserve, but because some people refuse to receive what no one deserves; if evildoers experience God’sterror, it will not be because they have done evil, but because they have resisted to the end the powerful lure of the open arms of the crucified Messiah” (p. 298).

Those who do receive what no one deserves are welcomed into a renewed creation under God’s loving reign. That is the goal. The evildoers are not imprisoned, screaming in agony, in some eternal land of unrenewed creation. I think they get what they desire. They get themselves without God, and that is death.

Thus, as Lewis said in The Great Divorce, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done’.” So God persistently, stubbornly, despite it being a “long and difficult task” in Bart’s words, works to overcome evil, respecting our freedom all along the way to choose to join him or not. When, in the end, whenever and however that comes, we finally choose not to join him in that task, God respects that choice too and in his mercy permits us to “get ourselves without God,” which is death/nonexistence.

But I digress.

The point of all this is to say that I’m not alone anymore. My family and I are rooted in a community working hard together to follow Jesus, and many wonderful things are happening as a result, including some very, very wonderful things for our little family and home, which I’ll write about later. Because I don’t feel alone anymore, I also don’t feel quite so afraid anymore. Thanks be to God.

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