a meditation – kingdom revisited, concluded

Throughout Christian history, God’s kingdom or, my preference, kin_dom, has been at the heart of the vocation to spread the faith, to evangelize, “to make” Christians. “Fishing for people” is a powerful image that has formed and framed much of the church’s self-understanding as a body of believers convinced of the cosmic proportion and universal import of its cause (after all, it’s about God and eternal life!) and, therefore, committed to calling others to embrace those beliefs. Though an oversimplified view of 2000 years of Christian missiology, nevertheless, it seems to me that the church, facing a world of many peoples, often has engaged in evangelistic efforts and battles of belief, which, in their fervor, at times ferocity have lacked the character of justice and compassion.

Today’s global conflicts along and across ideological and religious lines, bid that I look afresh at this central Christian concept, one at the heart of Jesus’ preaching (and one, which I, as a Jesus-follower hold dear): “The kingdom of God has come near…”

Not in faraway heaven, but here!

A community of justice. Not in eternity, but now!

A community of compassion. Not in an after (post-earthly) life, but today!

As I reconsider this good news of the kingdom, I perceive that it is not about salvation from eternal death to eternal life. This, I think, is what the church in its historical development has made of Jesus’ message. Rather as I hear the proclamation of the good news of the kingdom, it is about salvation from separation and isolation. Said another way, the kingdom-proclamation is less a call to adopt a set of beliefs and more an invitation to be in community. An invitation to live into the paradox that one might become more fully one’s self in the company of other fellow wanderers and wonderers, strivers and strugglers. An invitation to share in the search for this life’s meaning. (If there is an afterlife, I trust it will be there when I get there!) An invitation to live justly with compassion one with another. An invitation to carry that message, indeed, to live a life of justice and compassion in the wider world of the countless communities where peoples live and move and have their beings.

If (amazing to me how the vastness of life’s ever-present conditionality can be condensed into a tiny two-letter word!) I accept this invitation, a tension naturally, immediately arises: I want justice and compassion, indeed, I want to be just and compassionate, but I fear that I won’t find it, either in the world or in me. My fear notwithstanding, rather than my scanning the heavens (which is a metaphor for gazing anywhere and everywhere else), let me continue look to this world and in myself for these signs that God’s kingdom truly is at hand.

a meditation – kingdom revisited

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (or and Syria, thus ISIL or ISIS) wills to establish a caliphate, an earthly politico-religious state. I am awed and repulsed at the zealotry, at times, indiscriminately and unconscionably murderous, of those who would remold the Middle Eastern landscape and beyond into their image of a strict fundamentalism. Nevertheless, I ask: Is ISIL, in form and function, wholly different from that embodied in the Christian Crusades of the High and Late Middle Ages? Were not those campaigns curious admixtures of economic and political goals borne under a religious banner of the glorification of God’s realm, a dominion as earthly as it was eternal? I think so.

(The linking of ISIL and the Crusades, though, in purely historical terms, perhaps facile and surface, hardly strikes me as odd. Thus, I am not surprised that some laud ISIL’s leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, as this era’s Salahuddin, the 12th century Muslim ruler who fought the Crusaders or that some news reporters have interpreted Pope Francis’ support for Christians and religious minorities threatened by ISIL – “Where there is an unjust aggression…it is legitimate to stop the unjust aggressor” August 18, 2014 – as tinged with crusadist undertones.)

At heart, I am a pluralist. I tolerate, even more celebrate, still more live to learn about “the other”, the peoples of diverse cultures and creeds, philosophies and principles of my global human family. As such, when challenged by a different, even diametrically opposing worldview, my first instinct is to reexamine what I believe or think I know.

So, I take a…my fresh look at the Christian idea of God’s kingdom…

Jesus proclaimed the good news of God, “The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God has come near.” This is the essence of Jesus’ preaching. I prefer the Revised Standard Version’s wonderfully fleshy image: God’s kingdom is at hand. No matter how far I extend one of my hands from my body, I can reach it with my other hand. The kingdom is that close!

I always find it remarkable that Jesus doesn’t describe what the kingdom is. I imagine that for Jews of the first century Common Era with and to whom Jesus inaugurated his ministry, God’s kingdom was so central a fixture in their historical and theological self-understanding that little explanation was needed. For post-modernists, I think, some definition is helpful.

God’s kingdom, a complex concept at best, I think, at its simplest, is God’s reign or realm, which is neither an earthly nor heavenly domain, but rather a state of being. Some years ago, searching for a word that was less monarchical and less masculine, more relational and more inclusive, I began to use the term kin_dom. (Although creating one’s own language may be arrogant or at the very least unnecessarily extravagant, I make up words all the time when I can’t find a suitable term to capture and express precisely what I think or how I feel!) The difference between kingdom and kin_dom, for me, points to the biblical meaning.

God’s reign is less about the dominion (much less, the domination) of almighty God and more about the character of the being and life of God. An existence characterized by justice, fair dealing one with another, and compassion, shared living and loving in suffering and in joy. God’s reign, therefore, implies, no, demands the existence of a community of justice and compassion; for God’s reign is not about one being, even God, who is just and compassionate, but rather a community in which these values are embraced, indeed embodied.

So it was that Jesus called disciples to follow him, to be in fellowship with him, and then repeated that call, sending his followers out to do likewise – to gather community.

More to come…