Below you will find all of the questions to explore in conversation at your house churches for the month of May, 2016. Our theme is Life in Tension built around the Maxed Out and Tale of Two Kingdoms podcast series by The Meeting House and Chapter 3 of Virtue Reborn by NT Wright. You’ll also find links to the podcasts that you can listen to each week. As always, we want to get some deep conversations happening in our house churches and then sharing of insights, ideas and queries through our Facebook groups and our Sunday gathering and meetup. I hope you find depth and meaning in this month’s conversations!
House Church #1 – The Tension of Life – 2nd to 8th May, 2016
We all get up out bed for something. Sure, on the practical level it might be because of the screaming coming from the bedroom or footsteps coming down the hall, but more broadly there is a reason you had kids in the first place. There is some future that we hope for and everyday we get up seeking to realise that future hope. Our hope is what gives our life meaning and direction, our faith is what we trust to lead us towards our future hope, and we love whatever and whoever it is will bring about our hope. Living in this 21st century world it’s likely we have many future hopes which creates in us a real tension. Everyday we have to make choices, prioritise certain things over others, often only to realise that the life we are living doesn’t resemble the life we once dreamed of. And how frustrating is it when the things we trust in don’t deliver what we hope for? When something gets in the way of what we want? The problem is that we have many hopes and put our trust in many things, and in trying to have it all and hedge our bets, we end up living lives torn apart by competing desires.
- What are some of the things that people give their life for? What do you think you give your life for?
- Why is hope so crucial to the human life? What does it mean to have Christian hope?
- If we’re honest, most of us probably aren’t that clear about what we hope for and what we put our faith in. Do you think it’s important to be clear about what and who you put your faith in? And what future hope you’re aiming for?
- Do you think it’s true that all humans love whatever they trust to give them what they hope for?
- What are some ‘secular’ versions of faith, hope and love? How does this differ from Christian faith, hope and love?
- What do you think is the best thing to hope for in the future? What do you think is the way that will get us towards this future? Does this match with the Christian vision?
House Church #2 – Seeing Two Kingdoms – 9th to 15th of May, 2016
The main reason we feel tension in this life is because we live in a two-kingdom reality. There’s the one Jesus talked about and then there’s this one we live in everyday. Both kingdoms make demands for our allegiance and this clash of kingdoms plays out in very practical and real ways in our lives – the way we use our time, spend our money and the people we try to please. Unfortunately, the Kingdom of God is not a nation state where Jesus is president. And no Donald Trump does not have Jesus’ nomination. And because it is a kingdom of a different kind, then it’s often hard to know what our allegiance to it means and what resistance to the kingdoms of this world actually looks like. Ultimately, this is why Open House exists and why we have these conversations – to help each other learn to live in the reality of the peace that God is bringing to this world. As we think about it, share ideas and reflect on how we’re living, we go one step further in living the way of Jesus and bringing hope to our lives and the world.
- What is the best metaphor or image that you can think to understand the difference between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of man?
- What are some of the differences between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world?
- What are some of the directions our world pulls us in? What directions does God’s kingdom pull us in? Why do you think it’s so hard to resist the pull of our world?
- What are some of the ways that the kingdom of God makes demands on you? How do these demands differ from the demands of our 21st century, democratic, capitalist nation state?
- Jesus didn’t seem to have a great difficulty knowing what to say yes to and what to say no to. That’s not to say what he said ‘yes’ to and ‘no’ to was easy. What examples can you think of? Why do you think this is?
- If you look at the way you invest your time, money and who you’re primarily aiming to please, what does it say about where your allegiance is?
- How might we practice ‘seeing the kingdom’? How might we help each other to focus on inhabiting the reality of God’s now but not yet kingdom?
House Church #3 – The Rhythm of Simplicity – 16th to the 29th May, 2016
As a community one of our big ideas is to live simply. Many of the tensions, stresses and anxious moments we feel is because we don’t actually live this way. We try to live with a foot in both kingdoms, gaining all the benefits of this worldly kingdom and all the benefits of Christian faith. Yet instead of gaining the benefits, we end up losing them – stressed, anxious, worried, burdened, lifeless. What we want to consider through this conversation is how simplicity can lead us to a full and flourishing life. Far from missing out, by practicing the art of simplicity we can find the true essence of what it means to be human. Simplicity isn’t primarily about our money or time or possessions or people, but about our allegiance. Who is it that we are trusting to lead us to life? Jesus said that his yoke is easy and his burden is light, that whilst this world seeks to steal and kill and destroy he brings life in its fullness. By living simply and clearly defining our allegiance, we too can find this fullness in life despite the storms and complexity that swirls around us in this world.
- Read through the following quotes. As you read them, ask the question: what might this mean for us today?
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.
2. How are you going with the rhythm of life you wanted to establish this year?
3. How might the art of simplicity help you to live a life more in rhythm?
A Tale of Two Kingdoms