Posts Tagged 'Kingdom of God'

Transformed NonConformists, the Creative Maladjusted, and the Spirit

For the secomakingdisciplestransformationnd year in a row I’m helping teach our church’s Confirmation class. Confirmation in the United Methodist Church (and some others) invites students in middle-school and above to take a deeper look at Christian faith. Ideally these young men and women will  “confirm” as their own the Christian faith they’ve learned from their families and their church. We’re about a month away from our church’s Confirmation celebration. On that great day, these youth will join twelve million other United Methodists in our mission “… to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. “ (2012 United Methodist Book of Discipline, Par. 120). They’ll share our mutual promise to support this mission with our “prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness”. While this generation’s discipleship will reflect their God-given uniqueness and the times in which they live, they’ll also show a strong “family resemblance” to previous generations of the Christian community.

The world in which we live and serve as “disciples of Jesus Christ” hasn’t stood still during our four-month journey. It’s continued to change at a pace somewhere between breathless and chaotic. Much of that change runs counter to our vision of “the transformation of the world”. I wonder how well we’ve equipped our students for their/our transforming mission. Doing church “the way we’ve always done it” won’t work any better than it has for the last few decades. Our class is learning the Church’s traditions. One we often fail to teach is that God is “making all things new” (Revelation 21:5) and invites us to partner in that continuing process of God’s Spirit uses God’s people to tell the Christian story in new ways that touch peoples’ hearts and “make new” our ever-changing world.

Jim Wallis wrote recently about an inter-racial, ecumenical gathering on the 48th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination (April 5, 1968) at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Ebenezer is the church both Dr. King and his father served for many years. Wallis’ closing remarks that evening included some of Dr. King’s own words: “This hour in history needs a dedicated circle of transformed nonconformists … The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority… Human salvation lies in the hands of the creative maladjusted.” (Strength to Love)Transformed NonconformistDr. King described the post-Easter church perfectly! Jesus’ first followers formed a community of radical sharing. They welcomed the poor, the crippled, everyone their Jewish religious leaders had labeled “unclean”. Then Peter and Paul threw open the doors of the church to Gentiles—the most unclean of all! And that was just the beginning. These “transformed nonconformists” were out to change everything!  I would argue that the Spirit moves more often through out-liers than through the Establishment:

  • In 5th-Century Ireland pirates captured a Christian named Patrick. This “nonconforming minority” of one got to know his captors so well that he translated the story of Jesus into their own cultural expressions and eventually baptized many of them.
  • In Germany in 1517 a “creatively maladjusted” young monk challenged the massive Christian monopoly known as the Roman Catholic Church. Martin Luther’s boldness ignited a revolutionary transformation in the Church of Jesus Christ.
  • In early 18th-century England two seminarians invited fellow students to form an intentional community. These “Methodists”, as their critics called them, set out to live a more disciplined Christian life together. They embraced their new name. John Wesley wrote the words for the new movement, and his brother Charles wrote the music. John struggled for a while, but eventually experienced a personal transformation that focused and energized his ministry. The “nonconforming minority” called Methodists grew into today’s global Methodist movement that is millions strong.

The history of the Church is full of “nonconforming minorities” and “creatively maladjusted” communities like the Desert Fathers, the Mennonites, Clarence Jordan and Koinonia Farm, Howard Thurman and the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, Henri Nouwen and L’Arche Daybreak, Sojourners Community, Cecil Williams and Glide Memorial Church. Beyond these headliners, millions of very ordinary followers of Jesus share God’s transforming love in Christ each day in countless ways all over our planet.

Last fall I wrote about “Doing Jesus’ Laundry”.  Fifteen-year-old Caroline Gowan needed a community service project to complete requirements for a Girl Scout award. Caroline and her mother regularly made their own laundry detergent, and donated some to their church’s food  pantry. Clients welcomed it because it saved them some money, but they still spent up to $20-30 every time they went to a laundromat. Caroline thought, prayed, studied—and formed a plan. She arranged to use a local laundromat one afternoon a month. She enlisted her church’s help with donations of money, supplies, and volunteers. She spread the word as widely as she knew how. Last June “Loads of Love” began washing clothes and sharing God’s love in Bonaire, GA. They come in with dirty laundry,” Caroline says, “and leave with a renewed spirit and clean clothes…I feel like not only am I doing something for the people around me and that I am doing something for people I don’t even know, but that I’m doing something for the Lord. I am doing Jesus’ laundry!”

A few daysJesus Laundry ago I heard from Caroline’s mother! She’d seen my post. Caroline had received her Girl Scout Gold Award. “Loads of Love” continues “doing Jesus’ laundry” in Bonaire, GA and many other communities. Last Friday,” Michelle said, “27 volunteers from her family joined [Caroline] to serve the people in this community in honor of our grandmother and her legacy of service. Cousins came from all over the state and we had a family reunion at the laundromat. We began the night with $250 in quarters and when we left, we had done dozens of loads and had $315 in the box. There is no way to explain it other than ‘loaves and fishes math’. One thing she knows; God wants her to continue this ministry”. 

Thank God for “transformed nonconformists” like Paul, Peter, Patrick, Caroline Gowan, and all the rest! Thousands of youth are in Confirmation classes like ours this Spring. May the Spirit form them into “transformed nonconformists” serving our God who “makes all things new”!

“MINE!” or “OURS”?

Rufus the Wonder Dog recently welcomed (OK, tolerated) his “cousin” Callie (our daughter’s dog) for a weekend sleepover. They got along pretty well until Callie started playing with Rufus’s toys. When Rufus came to live with us last January, we got him four stuffed squeaky toys. He’s grown to love them all. He often gathers his “treasure” around himself wherever he hangs out during the day. Rufus’s vast collection of toys—three of which still squeak after months of enthusiastic use–makes him (in his opinion) a very wealtRufusToyhy dog indeed.

Oh yes, the sleepover. All went well until Callie started playing with Rufus’s toys. Rufus grumbled a bit, but didn’t mount an attack. His 12 pounds are no match for Callie’s 50+ pounds! Rufus has learned to pick his battles. He uses his wits and quickness to level the playing field. He watched closely (jealously?) as Callie played with one of his toys. At the first opportunity, Rufus snatch it back and reasserted his ownership. If you listened carefully, you could hear his inner dog say, “MINE!” He maintained constant vigilance as he reclined amidst his “wealth”. No, he would not share. All those toys were his. The snatching and sneaking-around went both ways, of course. Then both dogs began bringing toys for us to toss for them to retrieve. We knew better than to send two dogs after one toy. So my young grandchildren and I developed a strategy. We counted down and then “launched” the toys in opposite directions at the same moment. Nevertheles, we still had some canine confrontations over “simultaneous possession”. No-one got hurt, but both dogs displayed great fluency in language their mothers taught them never to use!

I don’t pretend to speak fluent Dog, but I understood clearly the most frequently-used expletive in their Toy Wars—“MINE!” Granted, their possessiveness was rooted in primitive survival instincts. We humans have similar primal instincts. But we’ve learned to discipline those instincts–sometimes. We’ve also discovered through painful experience that life together is better when we share power and resources, even when I don’t always get My Way. [Please don’t let my wife read this!] People of faith believe that life is lived best cooperatively with others following God’s guidance as we discern it.

But MINE!’s seismic shocks still shake our common life:

  • “This car and my driving are MINE!’ says the “remarkable” driver you just barely avoided. “I’ll drive my way regardless of others on the road.”
  • “This lush landscape is MINE!” say rich Californians who flaunt their wealth as they ignore drought-related water restrictions. “I’ll use all the water I want. I can afford it.”
  • “This nation is MINE!” say the leaders of nations refusing to participate in global climate-change solutions. “I’ll do what I want. I don’t care how our actions affect the rest of the planet.”
  • “Truth is MINE!” assert dogmatic political and religious leaders across the ideological spectrum. “Truth and Right are on my side . It’s my way or no way.”
  • “Victory is MINE!” cry athletes, coaches, and team owners. “We’ll do whatever it takes, spend whatever it takes, and follow the only rule that matters–‘Don’t get caught’.”
  • “My comfortable lifestyle is MINE!” say millions of affluent folks like us in the developed world, “and I really don’t care who or what gets harmed in the maintaining of my pampered existence.”
  • “Absolute unrestricted gun rights are MINE!” asserts the gun lobby every time another senseless mass shooting hits the headlines.

People of faith believe that God’s intent for Creation is not “MINE!” but “OURS”. The story in Genesis 1 describes the creation of life on earth with the intent that humans will “…have dominion…” (Genesis 1:26, 28) over other forms of life. One common interpretation of “dominion” concludes that natural resources are “MINE!” for humans to exploit freely, often with disastrous long-term results. But deeper study suggests that the concept includes a sense of stewardship and care for creation. “Dominion” describes a king’s rule, which includes care for the poor and vulnerable in his kingdom. So one popular translation says, “God created human beings… reflecting God’s nature…God blessed them: “’Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible…for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.” (Genesis 1:26-28 MSG) God created and trusted humans, whose nature “…[reflects] God’s nature…” with responsibility to care for Creation as the Creator intended.

“MINE!” poisoned human life when Adam and Eve sampled the one tree in the Garden that had been declared off-limits. (Genesis 3). “MINE!” continued to poison relationships between individuals, between nations, and between humans and God. We could read the whole Old Testament as the story of “MINE!” versus “OURS”.

Fast-forward now to Jesus. He embodied the way of “OURS” with striking clarity—so clear that the powerful forces of “MINE!” engineered his execution. Jesus’ followers set out to finish what he’d started. Jesus had shown them a generous, giving God; a welcoming, bringing-together God. Following him meant eliminating that greedy growling “MINE!” from their vocabulary–and ultimately from our human vocabulary. One early witness says of those early Jesus-Followers, “The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! They didn’t even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, ‘That’s mine; you can’t have it.’ They shared everything…not a person among them was needy.”—Acts 4:32-35 MSG

The evidence mounts daily that “MINE!” is a toxic lifestyle. It poisons every nation, every culture, every institution, every human relationship. We fight over the toys and growl “MINE!”. Unless we change, the poison will finally destroy life as we’ve known it on this beautiful planet. But how can we achieve massive global change? So It was hard enough in earlier, simpler times. It’s exponentially more complicated now with 7 billion people sharing our planet.

How do we get from “MINE!” to “OURS”?The same way the early Jesus Movement did. Eat the elephant one bite at a time! Start where we are, with those who share our lives. Share this vision in families, neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, communities, and especially our churches. Turn gradually but consistently away from “MINE!” toward OURS. Let your family and/or faith community become a live demonstration of OURS—what Jesus calls “The Kingdom of God.” Learn together to stop growling at other dogs and start sharing your “toys”. Let the Spirit of our generous, giving, welcoming God create that unity in which “…not a person among them was needy.” (Acts 4:32-35 MSG)


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