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God’s sacred ecosystem…

October 29, 2007

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“And why do you worry about clothes?  See how the flowers of the field grow.  They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is hear today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” 

Matthew 6:28-30

“The God that I grew up with–the God that I think has been part of American history–had a large agenda about how we care not just for those who look like ourselves or feel like ourselves, but for something bigger.”

Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, in Quotes of the Week, Sunday News, October 28, 2007

I read a story by Brian Skoloff that appeared in yesterday’s Sunday News about the dwindling water supplies on earth.  Experts say that more technology and conservation is needed to avert a crisis of global proportions.  The government projects that at least 36 states will face water shortages within five years because of a combination of rising temperatures, drought, population growth, urban sprawl, waste and excess.

505340977_71b2f3830c.jpg In Everything Must Change, Brian McLaren explores what Jesus’ life and message might have to say to the world’s biggest problems.  McLaren alludes to the dimishing supply of drinking water as a crisis that portends global tensions even beyond what the current demand for crude oil does.  McLaren traces the plethora of global crises (of which water supply versus demand is just one example) to four deep dysfunctions:

1.  Environmental breakdown caused by our unsustainable global economy, an economy that fails to respect environmental limits even as it succeeds in producing great wealth for about one-third of the world’s population.  McLaren calls this the prosperity crisis.

2.  The growing gap between the ultra-rich and the extremely poor, which prompts the poor majority to envy, resent, and even hate the rich minority–which in turn elicits fear and anger in the rich.  McLaren calls this the equity crisis.

ng10086_fm-1.jpg 3.  The danger of cataclysmic war arising from the intensifying resentment and fear among various groups at opposite ends of the economic spectrum.  McLaren calls this the security crisis.

4.  The failure of the world’s religions, especially its two largest religions, to provide a framing story capable of healing or reducing the three previous crises.  McLaren calls this the spirituality crisis

  70976543_bca7ad1415.jpg McLaren’s thesis proposes that Christianity is unfaithful to the way of Jesus when it buys into framing stories that reduce the importance of Jesus to dealing with “spiritual needs” of individual souls while ignoring the crises of this present age.  The Gospel thus reduced specializes in getting individual souls to make a transaction with God that will provide assurance as to the destination in the afterlife.   It is an expression of Christianity that focuses on “me” and “my spiritual life” and “my eternal destiny,” but fails to see the life and message of Jesus as also addressing the dominant societal and global realities of our lifetime:  systemic injustice, systemic poverty, systemic ecological crisis, systemic, systemic dysfunctions of many kinds.

This reduction of the Gospel has resulted in many (American) Christians living by the framing story of Empire in the here and now.  The dualism of good/evil is compounded by the myth of us/them.  The axis of evil is the problem.  The solution pre-emptive war which gives us the moral grounding to enact redemptive violence which is supposed to transform the world (both “them” and “us”) into a better place.  The framing story of Empire gives citizens of that empire a status that is god-like.  We are entitled to annex anything and everything that is necessary to continue to drive the machinery of empire. 

What about pre-emptive peace?  What about pre-emptive acts of restraint in consumption?  What are you anti-capitalist?  Anti-free market.  Oh, that’s right.  The market always acts in a way that is consistent with the values of the Kingdom of God.  What are you…a socialist?  Are you seriously suggesting more government regulation? 

What if the global economy continues to grow in a way that the natural resourses of the earth can not supply the raw materials, or get rid of the exhaust efficiently or cleanly?  Now you are sounding like a tree-hugger!  (insert sound file of disgusted disbelief that anyone could be a sucker for the great conspiracies of the left-wing–theories that seek to make a connection between consumption of fossil fuels and other raw materials and climate change.)

I hear Christian react to stories like the one on the looming shortage of drinking water in a variety of disconcerting ways.  Some chalk it up as another sign of the end of the age.  The main task of Christians is to get as many lost souls on the salvation train before the apocalypse.  This apocalyptic vision interprets the growing instability of our world (politically, economically, ecologically…) as inevitable signs of the end of the age, so why should we try to reverse these problems.  In fact, shouldn’t we actually take solace in the fact that the day is drawing closer when Jesus will return to get us out of here.  This view of the eschaton becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy–a death-wish–that sees the tragic brokenness of our world not as the wound which Jesus died to heal, but as a catalyst for the advent of the world to come. 

This world is going to pass away anyway, so why should this news effect how I live.  Material prosperity and my enjoyment of life–whether it is being able to drive the kind of oil-driven vehicle of choice or use any other of the earth’s resources in the quantity that I deem necessary is part of the birthright as a blessed child of God.  To suggest limits of any kind, out of a concern for the environment, or global equity is viewed as sacrilege to those who view autonomous individualism as the sin quo non of the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.

This is not the way of Jesus that we see in the Gospels.  I am grateful for the prophetic voices of those like Brian McLaren who are calling Christians to re-think the framing story that results in a “throw away” earth and the place of privilege that is afforded to citizens of Empire. 

McLaren speaks truth to power in this diagnoses:  The purpose of the US security system is to maintain the inequity of US prosperity.   

Some Christians cannot even begin to hear that perspective.  Why do you hate this country so much?

What if the way of Jesus, when rightly understood, undermines the legitimacy and moral foundations of the Empire narrative.  Must I, as a follower of Jesus, still give my unquestioning allegiance to the nation-state?  What if Jesus didn’t die just to get individual souls to heaven?  What if his death was the great reversal of the ages?  What if the way of bringing about lasting change–prosperity, security, and equity for all–could be brought about only through a community that lived not selfishly, but in the way of love and service to neighbor and enemy?  Would Jesus call Christians to choose between Caesar or himself?  Is it possible that the great seats of power in any era–whether Rome or Washington D.C.–can truly bring about a non-violent revolution of hope?  Rome was an accomplice to the Golgotha crucifixion. 

How are we accomplices to the perpetuation of the suicide machine?

How can we consider ourselves followers of Jesus and not be concerned that each person in the world has access to healthy drinking water?  What if equity of resources would mean adjusting our lifestyles so that others might live?  What if Christians would not view pollution and other ecological problems as secondary issues?  What if Christians rejected the framing story that unquestionably supports the agenda of Empire with it’s blind belief in redemptive violence–that we can bring lasting peace through domination? 

Blessed are those who mourn…

Blessed are the peacemakers…

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…

Blessed are you when you see the world and all it’s problems and believe that Jesus cares about more than selling fire insurance to individual souls…

Blessed are you when you offer a cup of cold water to the widow and the orphan in my name…

Blessed are you when you see that Jesus loves the world that he has made not just for the harvest of souls that need to be gleaned while we take our repose in the life of leisure…

Blessed are you when you become a peace insurgent in a world that is stuck in a dysfunctional suicide system…

Blessed are you when you see Jesus…, and in seeing Jesus you do not hold the world at arms length…

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. October 29, 2007 8:53 pm

    Yes, although all of Brian’s books have been prophetic and courageous (in that he has not been afraid of offending the conventional Christian wisdom – and his suffered innumerable attacks because of it) I think this one is going to do two things:

    1.) Wake some Christians up

    2.) Offend more than just Christians. This time he is tackling the world’s current wisdom, which so very far from being wise.

    A very good book.

  2. musingsofabittergirl permalink
    October 29, 2007 10:10 pm

    Hi, I was so glad to see your post! I also agree that there should be no reason (theologically) to link someone being concerned about the environment with ‘godless commie’ as so many Christians seem to do (without a second thought it seems!).

    I find the modern world and rampant capitalism – especially embodied in modern global corporations (who answer to no government but rather have started to control them) to be in violation of one of the 10 commandments: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”

    I think that the corporate world idolizes money (or should I say profit?) before all else, and many of these people have coopted Christianity and twisted some of the teachings of the faith to ‘support’ their personal desires for money and power.

    It is this putting of profit before faith or caring for God (or others on this earth) that we have companies spewing filth into the waters and air – no care for the generations to come etc.. Think of how many of the seven ‘deadly’ sins are involved in the running of the average corporation (such as a weapons manufacturer, chemical industry or oil company) – avarice, greed, sloth, envy, pride … how can capitalism then be considered ‘Christian’ – how can any Christian criticize ‘tree huggers’ for that matter using religion as an argument ? It saddens me that the terms ‘right wing’ and ‘Christian’ are always linked . . . I hope more and more books and blogs attempt to unlink this ‘unholy’ alliance in people’s minds.

  3. October 29, 2007 10:25 pm

    AMEN! Thanks so much for your blog. I have not read Everthing Must Change yet, but will be soon.

  4. Leon permalink
    October 29, 2007 11:18 pm

    I am currently reading a collection of Tolstoy’s short stories (let the reader beware that he has some VERY long ones to compare them to, thus his short stories are like a book) and he reflects much of what McLaren is stating in “Everything Must Change.” Although the language is different and the details may not be exact, the message is surprisingly similar. Follow Jesus in a way that transforms the world and the relationship Christians have to the world.

    Peace,
    Leon

  5. jtroyer2 permalink
    October 30, 2007 1:13 pm

    wow. you said so much here. good stuff. i have just started the book .i am excited to check it out. first know this, i am a recovering right wing conservative republican, evangelical, dispensationalist. seriously. now, i am just trying to live out the kingdom, trying to transcend some of these labels.

    one thing you said that is important, is that our eschatology effects how we live and what we find important. if we are just trying to escape some flaming hell bent ball of dirt, then yeah, let it rot. but what if god is in the redeeming and restoring business (rev 21,22)? maybe god is calling us to play a role in that.

    i had to laugh at one point. since leaving my allegiances, i have been called names. i have been called left wing, socialist, anti-bush, anti-american. and all i did was cut allegiances with the republican party. all parties actually. it is incredible. oh well. such is life.

  6. October 30, 2007 7:16 pm

    jtroyer! Welcome to the club! I’ve been raised a right wing conservative, weaned on Bill Buckley and campaigned for every Republican that ever ran in Maryland (unsuccessfully, for the most part). All that time I was an agno/atheist. When I converted my family didn’t know what to do with me – but at least I was still politically conservative.

    But conversion is a lifelong experience, isn’t it? Now I am not such “an in your face fundy” but my family thinks I’ve become some sort of communist. I’m still a Republican (gotta be registered as something) and still read NR (need to stay informed from all perspectives) but realize that to follow Christ means to not follow most anyone else.

    It can be funny.

  7. October 31, 2007 1:22 pm

    sorry brian. my wordpress account is all screwed up. hopefully this is the last time i change this.

    christian, thanks for the welcome. i am finding a brotherhood of sorts out there for those of us who have defected. thanks.

  8. November 1, 2007 6:52 pm

    Wow, this is a great post. I suppose I should read the book. I’m thinking of sharing this post ver batim as my Peace Sunday sermon. At the very least, I’ll be cribbing portions!

  9. Dawn permalink
    November 2, 2007 2:40 am

    Wow! Brian, see what happens when you speak out what your heart is really thinking!!! You crammed a lot of perspective into one post . . . and may I say a most refreshing post.

    Every morning now, I am reminded that my allegiance is not to this Empire when I ask a student to lead my homeroom in the pledge. In the face of the gloomy reality of the Church in America we can have hope when we remember that every time in history when God’s people fell to loving idols of the age, God brought His people back, albeit by means we may not necessarily appreciate. I always thought of it as God’s jealousy for our allegiance and love, but now I also believe it is because God’s plan of reconciliation and redemption will not be thwarted no matter how much we sin.

    Our prayer must be that the Church will repent . . . not for the sake of ourselves, but for the sake of the Church itself, that the Name of Christ be lifted up. For now the Name of Christ is profaned as the Church in America condones or stands by while Empire greed and selfishness reeks havoc on the Earth.

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