Updated: May 5
(taken from my 4.28.23 morning journal entry)
Problem #1: WE LIVE IN A WORLD BUILT ON DOMINATION SYSTEMS
this, I wonder, is perhaps the principalities and powers that deal death, enslave people, keep people in poverty, hunger, behind bars, doing work they hate. The pain associated with the domination systems leads people to all kinds of self medication that furthers the enslavement and destruction. We eat unnatural food that gives us quick comfort hits, but leaves us undernourished and stressed. We destroy healthy sleep habits. We create sexual fantasy worlds based on pixels, or sex for pay, or whatever. We cut ourselves off from the ways of nature, and from nature herself. There are many more paths for escape and self medication as well. And then add the third layer to this mess: We embrace the shame of the self medicating choices we’ve made and wallow in it. Or, perhaps worse, we ignore the foolishness and stupidity of our choices, and as a result we end up in self perpetuating destructive cycles, both hurting ourselves and others while remaining blind to our own pathologies, and failing to be the people of blessing we’re called to be
Problem #2 WE CAN’T FIND WAYS TO BREAK FREE OF THESE SYSTEMS AND YET MUST - BECAUSE THE SYSTEMS WILL ALWAYS BE HERE IN SOME MEASURE -
… racism is still here, human trafficking is still here. Sexism. Environmental degradation. Slavery. Wars. Mercenaries who kill for hire. Insanely angry and anxious people who shoot others because they knocked on the wrong door and drive up the wrong driveway. HOW CAN WE LIVE WITH PEACE AND HOPE AS PEOPLE OF BLESSING in the midst of such a &%$# world???
I’ve noticed something lately that the way we live our daily lives, the choices we make, the reactions that come from us in response to traffic, news, work frustrations, and much more. I’ve noticed that our reactions and choices are in a large measure based on what we perceive to be the deepest, and hence the most important, realities. And make no mistake, there are (at least) two versions of reality in which many of us are trying to swim every day.
There are what Jesus calls the “kingdom(s) of this world.” That’s what we run up against when we hear about five people shot dead by a man because one of the victims asked the perpetrator to stop shooting his guns so that his daughter could go to bed. It’s the imprisonment of journalists and people whose only crime is trying to tell the truth. It’s the ongoing presence of racial hatred, corporate greed, political propensity for self destruction amongst democratic leaders. It’s entertainment that teaches us sex is recreation, sort of like playing tennis, a form of stress relief, or that self medicating with sugary treats laced with all kinds of chemicals is just fine, or that the best water comes in disposable plastic bottles, or that everything I’ve talked about in this paragraph is the only reality, so you’d better _______________ (shop, work, withdraw, become angry, become cynical, self-medicate, carpe diem, eat, drink, be merry, shop, party, conquer, hook-up) because tomorrow we die.
The kingdoms of this world are real, and powerful, and for many, maybe even the majority, maybe even all of us in some measure, they’re painful. Some mornings I woke up and I haven’t taken ten breathes before I’m depressed by another shooting, another friend diagnosed with cancer, another story of politicians lying (and people cheering for them all the more), another marriage in shambles, another country in peril, another group of migrants found dead at a border somewhere, or at sea. My God! Is this reality?
Yes. But also, no. To explain this, I offer an extended quote from my book: Forest Faith:
After his arrest, Jesus was questioned by the Governor of Judea, who had the power to free or execute him. He asked Jesus: “What have you done?” (Wondering what crime he’d committed)…
”My kingdom is not of this world” is what Jesus said in response, and quickly added that if it were of this world, his disciples would have taken up arms and fought to save his life. But they didn’t and he gave himself up without a fight because his authority was, as he reiterated, “of another realm” and he said it with an unnerving confidence as if Jesus belied his kingdom would continue, regardless of this trial’s outcome, which is exactly what happened.
Too often Jesus’ ‘not of this world’ kingdom has been taken to mean solely something for a different time (the future) and place (heaven). That doesn’t work though, because Jesus, speaking in this own here and now on earth said, “the kingdom of Go “within you.” Jesus went to threat lengths to show us that nations will rise and fall. Economic systems will too. There will always be an issue di jour. Sometimes it will be really important, like ending present day slavery, or restoring dignity to the heart that beats in the womb, or the woman sexually abused at the hands of a person with power, or elevating the conversation about a planet on fire because of overconsumptions. Of course these things matter, and a hundred other issues too. Of course we’re called to shine light into all of it!
(And yet too often).…while we squabble and seek to settle matters, gain power, keep power, and fight our battles, Jesus is keyed into an entirely different reality. Search the Bible. He said remarkably little about the corruption of the Roman Empire, or the hot button issues of real oppression in it. Maybe it was because he knew that no matter which side ends up winning various territorial or culture wars, unless hearts are won, it won’t make any ultimate difference. People will always find ways to work around the rules, and ways to oppress, dominate, and be greedy. It happened after the civil war ended in America, and the genocide in Rwanda….
If my words appear cynical and pointing toward disengagement, keep reading to see why that’s not the case. Jesus was showing us that our calling is to put an alternative, deeper reality on display. We’re light in the midst of darkness. We’re salt in the midst of decay and purification. Both light and salt, by the way, are mighty attractive to those swimming in a sea of putrefying darkness. It falls to us, then, to display our Creator's alternative to the realities of this world. The good news is that the alternative realities are more real than this present, and we know this by virtue of two things:
God’s Shalom realities are aligned with the heart of the creator. Of course they are, and since our assigned vocation from God is to be image bearers, it only makes sense that justice, mercy, generosity, celebration, hospitality, reconciliation, service, simplicity, creativity, contentment, and love for all would be the most life giving path we could possibly choose for ourselves, narrow though it is!
Second, of God’s Shalom realities (called God’s kingdom in the Bible) will never end. This is the message over and over, from beginning to end, and always the observation and invitation is the same: God’s eternal realities are more real than the passing fashions, trends, hashtags, political intrigues, of the present day. Poof! They’ll all be gone soon, like a candle in the wind. Meanwhile, what abides? Faith, Hope, Love… Our Creator.
Learning to swim in that reality so that it informs how we behave in the other reality is our deepest, and primary, and most intriguing calling!
Would you like to learn more about how to swim in that calling. Subscribe here because it’s what I’m writing about and hoping to podcast about this summer. AND… join me for a class on 5.20.23 at Bethany Community Church called: Forest Faith: How to Live a Life Rooted in Christ. Click here for details. We all need the capacity to rise above the day to day inputs and events that tend to lead to the corrosion of hope and meaning. This class will help you creates habits to do just that!