Life in Tension – Conversation Starter – May 2016

0 Posted by - May 4, 2016 - Conversation Starter

What Gets You Up In The Morning?

Gets you up in the morning
“Yawn…WHAT…stretch…yawn…GETS….yawn…YOU…up in the morning?

Every morning we get up out of bed for something. There is something that motivates us to open our eyes, roll out of the covers, stumble to our feet and head to the coffee machine.

The Twenty One pilots song we listened to at the start of the gathering was kinda profound and insightful wasn’t it? Wanting to find something new, being insecure and caring what people think, wanting to turn back time to when momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out. It’s this critique of society telling children to build rockets and fly to outer space, but now they’re laughing at us saying, ‘wake up you need to make money’…yo!

Some of us get up for fame. We want our name to be great, to achieve, to matter. Some of us get up for money. We want to be able to buy stuff and lots of it. Some of us get up for pleasure. We want to do things that make us happy and feel good. Some of us get up to keep our families alive and safe. Our being awake is about making sure our children can eat and live their lives. We all get up for something.

If you’ve seen the Enneagram personality test, you know that each of the 9 personality types have a basic fear that orients us and a basic desire that drives us. Whether it’s the fear of being corrupted or defective or of being unwanted or unworthy of love. It could be the fear of being worthless, the fear of having no personal significance, or the fear of being useless or helpless. For you it might mean the fear of having no support, of being trapped and in pain, of being harmed or controlled by others or the fear of loss or separation. These fears can motivate us, and shape strong desires in us: the desire to be good, to be loved, to feel valuable, to find significance, to be competent, to be secure, to be satisfied, to be in control, to have inner stability or peace of mind.

Faith

What gets us up every morning is what we believe in. It’s our faith. It’s what we truly trust. It’s the belief that if I give of my life, my time, my energy, to this aim it will be worth it. My life will be meaningful, it will matter.

And what we get up for, the faith that we have, tells us what we truly love.

Faith isn’t some abstract idea about what you believe about supernatural, metaphysical, theological, god-ish stuff. Faith is what we get up for in the morning, it’s what we give of our lives to.

Hope

Hope
In our house church conversation a couple of weeks back, Allie was sharing a story of how she went to a funeral of a small child, only weeks old. She was talking of the utter despondency, utter tragedy of it, yet in the midst of that gathering of people there was a tangible sense of hope. And you could tell the experience for her was profoundly deep and moving. She shared that the group of people were charismatic, pentecostal Christians, and even though she didn’t really want the happy-clappy, hands-in-the-air stuff, she really, deeply yearned for hope. And as I reflected on it, I realised that I really want that kind of hope, too.

What is it about the human experience that even in the midst of great pain, that we can feel such peace? What is it about the human race that we can endure almost anything if we have hope? And yet when we have lost all hope, when we are in the pit of utter despair, we can barely find the will to live? Why is hope so important in feeling truly alive as a human?

It seems that humans can’t be fully alive without hope.

Faith, Hope and Love

These ideas of faith, hope and love, these three little common Christian words, have started to really intrigue me. NT Wright’s Virtue Reborn positions these three ideas as the central Christian virtues. They are the heartbeat, the centre of the Christian life.

The words are found in 1 Corinthians 13 where Paul is talking about love. He says if you do all this spiritual stuff or all these acts of social justice or have a lot of knowledge it all means nothing if you don’t have love. And love is patient, kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it doesn’t get angry, it’s not self-seeking, it protects, trusts, hopes, and pursues the truth. Everything else fails, but love endures. In the midst of all these things we could give our lives to, three things remain: faith, hope and love, and love is the greatest.

As I continue to try to understand how it is humans can thrive, flourish, be good and do good in our world, the Christian way keeps making more and more profound sense.

Hope is what I want to see come to life in the future. Faith is the path or the way that I trust to bring about what I want to see in the future (my hope). And love is the driving force of my will, it’s how I direct my energies.

In a Christian sense, we trust in the incarnational way of Jesus who inserts himself into the suffering of the world and self-sacrificially loves the other. And we hope that God is in the process of loving the world away from its sorrows and injustices, that from death will come life. And it is love that is the foundational energy of the universe and of our very beings.

And whether we see it or not, I think this is fundamentally how all humans operate. We hope for something in our future, we put our faith in something as the way of achieving that hope, and we love whatever or whoever will deliver us our future. We love whatever we trust to give us what we hope for.  

Two Kingdom Reality

Two Kingdom Reality
The reality that we live in is comprised of two competing kingdoms. We’re used to thinking of kingdoms or modern nation states as having land, borders, assets, and citizens. If you live within the borders, you’re a citizen. You go to work, you pay your taxes, you follow the law, you do the right thing. And that kingdom promises to work for the peace and prosperity of its citizens.  So long as you contribute to the kingdom’s interest and give them what they want, then you don’t have any problems.

Except that we do have a problem, because Jesus came talking about a different kind of kingdom. He talks about this new Kingdom a lot – over one-hundred times in the New Testament. He uses images of it being like a seed, like a treasure, like yeast, like a banquet, a coming reality that has arrived in our midst, that is near but not yet.

One of the hardest things about this new way of being human that Jesus invites us into is that it is constantly at tension with the kingdoms of this world. Jesus’ kingdom is not about acquiring physical space but relational space – peace, forgiveness, reconciliation, trust, between all people, and letting go of power, prestige, wealth and status. Citizenship is not something you are born into, or forced into, it’s not about conquest but it’s about free choice. The kingdom doesn’t coerce, manipulate or force its citizens to behave and act in certain ways, but instead seeks to woo people through fascination about the way of love. In Jesus’ kingdom its borders are open to everyone, there is no hierarchy, everyone is equal. It’s not about the avoidance of pain and seeking pleasure, but leaning into suffering and growing into our full humanity through it. Ultimately, it’s about the giving up of power, instead of grasping for it.

Sometimes I wish that there was the country of Jesus. This geographical region of the world where we could go and be a citizen in the Kingdom of God. It would remove a lot of the tensions. You could have a passport and know if you’re in or out. You could calculate exactly how much it would cost you to get there and apply for citizenship. Everyone that wanted to would get in and everyone would be living out a radical others-centredness. Free healthcare, free education, free food, and an abundance of everything. The only problem would be the moment an enemy came knocking, envious of the peace and prosperity – non-violent armies would only last so long.

Tension

But there isn’t a Jesus State. So, if you happen to be someone who is drawn to the peace teachings of Jesus, the upside-down Kingdom, the revolution of the heart, someone who feels the pull towards neighbour and enemy love, self-sacrificial service of the other and the least, and you happen to be living in this world, in 21st century Melbourne, then you would feel a great tension within you.

We have this hope of a new heavens and a new earth, a universal peace, the kingdom of God, yet we live in a world filled with injustice, greed, pain, suffering. We have this hope of being people of peace, joy, compassion, and blessing, but feel the pull of envy, greed, lust, desire, power and selfishness. As Paul says, ‘what I want to do, I do not do.’ We hope for peace in our world and within ourselves, but all too often it’s not our experience.

We live in constant tension.

Hard to Resist

Everyday we are surrounded by a culture, a system, an all-compassing kingdom that is trying to gain our allegiance. To gain our hearts – our love and desires. And it’s hard, near impossible, to resist it. Not just because we’re greedy or self-interested or the structures of the society encourage us to live in specific ways. Not only because we have to go to work to provide essentials for our family and to have a roof over our head requires a 40 hour week investment. But because what does resistance actually look like? What does it mean to have allegiance to Jesus’ non-geographical, invisible kingdom instead of the kingdom of this world?

Think of President Snow’s address to the people of PanEm from the Capitol in Hunger Games. He makes explicit what is true for every kingdom of our world. We have a magnificent system, that maintain peace, the people’s hard work feed the powerful, and the powerful protect the people. But if you resist you starve yourself, you will bleed. PanEm today, PanEm tomorrow, PanEm forever.

So, what if the Kingdom of God requires us to resist? Are we willing to starve or bleed? And even if we are, what does this resistance actually look like?

Seeing the Kingdom

The difficulty in knowing how to resist comes from the fact that the way that the kingdom of God relates to the kingdom of the world is hard to imagine.  It’s not like there is a country of Jesus, where Jesus is president, we have our passports and we can know we’re in and our allegiance is clear. It’s not like there’s some super juice that we can drink that deals with our ego, our pride, our self-centredness. It’s not as if we can get a Jesus tattoo that magically transforms the direction of what we love and where our hope is.

Most kingdoms relate to each other in time and space. Like two puzzle pieces next to each other and you can never be in two kingdoms at once. Yet the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, or it’s like yeast, or it’s like wheat amidst the weeds.

We stand in the midst of a two kingdom reality. The seed, or the yeast, or the wheat is within us and around us, but so too are the weeds. Two kingdoms demanding our allegiance, asking us to be citizens, to have faith, hope and love in radically different ways.

The kingdom of this world asks us to our faith in humanity, to love progress, to hope for world peace. The kingdom of God asks us to put our faith in love, to love God, to hope for universal peace. It’s self-centredness versus others-centredness, self-preservation versus self-giving-sacrifice, it’s free-choice versus coercion, it’s force versus freedom, it’s enemy hatred versus enemy love.

You almost have to have x-ray vision or love-vision glasses to see where the Kingdom is.

During the holidays Emma and were looking for a geocaching game we could play. We tried a couple, but couldn’t really make it work. And then we stumbled on a game called Ingress. It’s this immersive game that overlays this whole other reality over a real world map. You go to locations, search for portals, collecting loot, attacking the enemy. There are two sides – the resistance and the enlightenment – and the aim is to control as many portals as possible. Now, the analogy falls over in many senses, particularly in the idea that the two kingdoms fight in the same way, but it works in at least one.

The Kingdom of God is all around us. It is sprouting, growing, expanding wherever humans hearts are choosing the self-emptying way of the love of Jesus.

One of the biggest way we feel this tension in the 21st century world is in the way we approach time. We all have 168 hours every week, and most of us in our culture feel like that’s never enough. Life just seems to happen and we feel maxed out. The expectations of being a citizen in the 21st century Australian kingdom that we live in just fill up our life.

Another big way we feel this tension is the way we approach money. We stress about it, we think about it, we lose sleep over it, we spend the largest part of our time on making it, yet there is still never enough of it. We live in the richest 3% of the global population, and maintain lifestyles that only royalty would’ve enjoyed in previous centuries, and we know this rationally but it never feels like it.

Why?

The question has to be asked: why do we feel such a tension living in this world? Some people say there is simply too much to do and not enough time. Other people say there’s never enough money to buy what we need. But is that really true? Do we really not have enough time or money?

Jesus & Time

Just like we only have 168 hours in every week, so too did Jesus. But he didn’t seem to feel the same two-kingdom tension that we do.

In Luke 4 there’s a story of a day in the life of Jesus. Teaching in the synagogue, stirring up crowds, going to someone’s house to heal someone, then at sunset all these people starting bringing all these people, he healed them. And then the next day he was up at dawn to be alone. Everyone comes looking for him, they didn’t want him to leave. But he says no, because he has to continue sharing his story in other towns.

Jesus seems to have a way to say ‘yes’ and a way to say ‘no’ without feeling the tension or stress of living in a two-kingdom reality. People pleasing doesn’t appear to affect his capacity to act.

All these people have different expectations on him, but he knows where his allegiance is, he is clear on his faith, hope and love, which allows him to say yes or to say no.

Jesus teaches that his way of living is light and his yoke is easy, it’s a way of rest (Matthew 11:28-30), yet this light and rested life doesn’t seem characteristic of my 21st century life. Why do you think that is?

Jesus & Money

It shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus had quite a bit to say about money. In fact, he talks about money more than anything else. Of the forty recorded parables, about half are about money. There’s the: pearl of great price, the lost coin, the prodigal son who squanders his inheritance, and the laborers in the vineyard. He talks about money in his teachings: the widow’s two coins (Mark 12:41-44), Caesar’s taxes (Matthew 22:15-22), the rich young man (Matthew 19:16-24) and Zaccheus the tax collector (Luke 19:1-10).  And of course there are some famous quotes:

“Where your treasure is, there also your heart will be”.

“Take nothing for the journey, neither walking stick, nor sack, not food, nor money.”

“You cannot serve both God and money.”

Jesus experienced the same conditions of human experience that we do, perhaps in even far greater and more intense measure. But lived and loved from a place of peace and rest. How did he do it?

Allegiance

Allegiance
I think the difference between Jesus and us is that Jesus knew where his allegiance was. His faith, hope and love was not constantly being put into question in every micro decision he had to make about his time and about his money, about his life.

The thing that causes us tension has nothing to do with the amount of time or money we have – it is the clash of kingdoms. It’s our inability to prioritise, to say yes and no. It’s this clash of priorities, the clash of desires, the not knowing of what to choose, the not knowing of who to please, the not knowing of how to invest our time and money, our lives, that causes all the stress, anxiety, and tension. The more tension we have, the more we are trying to live in two kingdoms. We’re trying to please too many people, with too many clashing values. We’re not clear about our allegiance, to which kingdom we actually belong.

I hope you can start to see the importance of the Christian virtues of faith, hope and love. We love that which we put our faith because we believe that it will deliver us our hoped for future. To be citizens in the Kingdom of God is not to live in a country where Jesus is president or where we have a Jesus passport. It is to have faith that the way of Jesus will bring about the kind of future world and future life that your deepest self hopes and longs for.

The Simple Way

So many of the tensions we face is because we try to get all the benefits of the systems of our world and we try to get all the benefits Christian faith and they clash. Instead of simply going all in with our citizenship to a particular kingdom, we do a bit of both and hedge our bets. We take enough of the security, prosperity and safety of being a good citizen of the world, whilst also trying to ensure that we being good enough citizens of God’s kingdom.

A number of us have been exploring the teachings of a somewhat obscure figure. He’s a celibate, mystic, Catholic Friar, from a 21st century Franciscan order, named Richard Rohr. The Franciscans, in many ways, have a lot in common with the Anabaptists.  One of the key ideas they have about removing the tension of living in the tension of two kingdoms is simplicity.

Instead of reinventing the wheel, I thought we could reflect on some of Richard Rohr’s ideas about simplicity that he learned from the 13th century lives of St Francis and St Clare of Assissi. I think what we’ll start to see is that when we stop hedging our bets, when we seek to clearly define our allegiance, what results is not more suffering but more peace, more hope, more love.

A very simple lifestyle is one outside the system of production and consumption, plus a conscious identification with the marginalised of society. In this position you do not “do” acts of peace and justice as much as your life is itself peace and justice.

It’s a new and creative stance where you cannot be co-opted for purposes of security, possession or the illusions of power – you are on the edge, not at the centre.

Today, most of us try to find personal and individual freedom even as we remain inside of structural boxes and an entire system of consumption that we are then unable or unwilling to critique. Our mortgages, luxuries, and chosen lifestyles control our whole future. Whoever is paying our bills, and giving us security and status, determines what we can and cannot say or think.

The way of radical Christianity is simply to stay outside of such systems to begin with, so they cannot control your breadth of thinking, feeling, loving, and living out universal justice.

To pray and actually mean “thy Kingdom come,” we must also be able to say “my kingdoms go.” At best, most Christians split their loyalties between God and Caesar, but Francis and Clare did not. Their first citizenship was always, and in every case, elsewhere (Philippians 3:20), which ironically allowed them to live in this world with joy, detachment, and freedom.

When you agree to live simply, you put yourself outside of others’ ability to buy you off, reward you falsely, or control you by money, status, salary, punishment, and loss or gain of anything.

When you agree to live simply, you have little to protect and no desire for acquisition, even for acquisition of any “moral capital.” If you imagine you are better, holier, higher, more important to God than others, it is a very short step to justified arrogance or violence toward those others. In fact, it is almost inevitable. If you eliminate such manufactured and desired superiority, religion can finally become nonviolent in thought, word, and deed.

When you agree to live simply, you do not consider the immigrant, the refugee, the homeless person, or the foreigner as a threat to you or see them as being in competition with you. You have chosen their marginal state for yourself—freely and consciously becoming “visitors and pilgrims” in this world.

A simple lifestyle is quite simply an act of solidarity with the way most people have lived since the beginnings of humanity.

When you voluntarily agree to live simply, you do not need to get into the frenzy of work for the sake of salary or the ability to buy nonessentials or raise your social standing. You enjoy the freedom of not climbing. You might climb for others, but not just for yourself.

When you agree to live simply, you have time for spiritual and corporal works of mercy because you have renegotiated in your mind and heart your very understanding of time and its purposes. Time is not money anymore, despite the common aphorism! Time is life itself.

When you agree to live simply, you can easily find a natural solidarity with all people on the edge and the bottom—the excluded, the shamed, and the forgotten—because you stop idealizing the climb and finally realize there isn’t a top anyway.

When you agree to live simply, all the ideological “-isms” lose their pull and attraction: consumerism, classism, sexism, capitalism, ageism, lookism, communism, patriotism, fascism, even addiction, because they are all based on what John calls “disordered desire, lust of the eyes, and pride in possession … based on a world that is passing away” (1 Jn 2:16–17).

When you agree to live simply, the ethics and economics of war reveal themselves in all their evil and stupidity. Some say security systems, weapons, and armies actually demand 80 percent of the world’s resources, and everything else is made to fall into place behind that. How could that possibly be the will of God?

When you agree to live simply, people cease to be possessions and objects for your consumption or use. Your lust for relationships or for others to serve you, your need for other people’s admiration, your desire to use other people as a kind of commodity for your personal pleasure, or any need to control and manipulate other people, slowly—yes, very slowly—falls away.

When you agree to live simply, there is no long-standing basis for any kind of addiction. You are free to enjoy, but you never let any enjoyment become your master. You practice non-addiction every day by letting go, not needing, and not desiring anything in particular. Fasting, detachment, and simplicity were the original words for non-addiction in the spiritual traditions.

The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.

Live in Peace

Live in Peace
When we choose our allegiance, commit to faith, hope and love, and embrace simplicity, then the tensions of this world begin to fall away.  

And this has a huge range of benefits to us and the world:

  1. Our work then starts to mean something
  2. We can invest our time and our money in initiatives and projects that are meaningful
  3. We find rest, energy, peace, inspiration and lose the guilt
  4. We are then free to ask how can we reimagine and reawaken the world to love with our time and our money – with our very lives

It really comes down to the question: are we willing to risk it all to gain it all? Jesus said, “those who seek to find their life will lose it, those who lose for my sake will find it.” May we be a community that embraces the idea that ‘the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better,’ that inspires, motivates and encourages each other towards a simple way of allegiance to Jesus’ way of enemy love free of the tension and pressures of this world.