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Evangelism for the Ordinary Radical

August 17, 2008

“So, are you an anarchist?” my upstairs neighbor Jonah asked.  I had just told him about this website that dabbles in Christian Anarchy from time to time, and such an obscure topic had evidently snagged his curiosity.

“Well, no, not quite.  I figure if all that talk in the New Testament and our Christmas hymns about ‘Jesus is king of kings and lord of lords,’ and ‘joy to the world, the Lord has come: let Earth receive her king,’ is true, then those are massively political claims, far bigger than cute figures of speech to sooth the sin-sacked soul.  So, yeah, if I believe that, then that has big implications for my politics.” I then rambled on about embodying an alternative politic in community, not primarily pursuing state action — you know the rest.

Jonah had a slight grin arising from somewhere between hesitation and fascination.  Unsure of where to take the conversation from there, I quickly shifted our chat to the situation in Georgia, Hugo Chavez, and Mercosur.  The topic of Jesus and his kingdom didn’t return to the conversation.

As I left from there for a bike ride, my mind was flooded with questions about why I am still so bashful in talking to non-Christian about all this “Jesus as King” business. The spiritual-mystical side of Christianity and the gospel are easy to talk about, but the revolutionary and political stuff doesn’t come half as naturally to me when talking to non-followers.

The existence and love of God?  Sure.  Holy Spirit stuff?  Yep, I can contextualize that reality no problem.  I’ve even been known to talk about the Trinity’s implications for personal identity and community life to non-Christians before without much hesitation.

But this “Jesus is King” thing… it feels so hard to explain this.  A revolution/radical/counter-imperial framing of the biblical story and gospel puts a lump in my throat.

Maybe it’s because my journey into a radical Christianity took place mostly within seminary, where I can talk about this stuff at that level.  Heck, a couple years ago I even wrote a paper for an evangelism class about gospel-as-revolution.  While my theology has shifted somewhat since writing that paper, I still stand by it as broadly biblical.  Yet I see now that I wrote it with the hope of it radicalizing other Christians who read it.  It was my smarmy twenty-something way of tolling the bell of dissidence in a dispensational school.  But my language about a radical faith still only seems to make any sense to those with a basic sense of the biblical story.  My revolution-bent theology is entirely calibrated toward a well-read Christian conversation partner.  Who was I trying to evangelize: Christians or non-Christians?

Un-fixing the Chasm

I doubt I am alone in this anxiety.  It’s so hard to explain “Jesus-as-my-King” to non-Christian coworkers and neighbors.  My coworker Hazel asked me once why I practice abstinence: “Is that from, like, religious convictions?”  “Kinda,” I stammered.  “It’s really more political than it is religious,” I continued, before our work duties cut the conversation short.

For as post-Christendom, postmodern, and utterly New-Agey as many like Hazel are, I meet many of them who are ensnared by the Enlightenment-era lie that the spiritual and the political are entirely discrete and separate things.  It’s the founding dualism of the democratic West: that there is a chasm forever fixed between theology-spirituality-mysticism-religion-private and politics-ethics-sex-economics-public. Sexual ethics, goes the lie, finds roots in fearful heel-clicking to the religious magesterium by sheeply pew-fillers, not out of our affectionate allegiance to a living King of the Earth.  Folk like Hazel (and most American Christians, at that!) are struck with cognitive dissonance when we answer their questions about our spirituality or ethics with a political and this-worldly answer.

All the more difficult is explaining this gospel-as-revolution-of-Jesus business to them!  Before I can explain darn-near anything to anyone about the gospel, the kingdom, or the King, I will need to explain my divergence from the lie of political-spiritual dualism.

Un-polishing the Gospel

But the need for such throat-clearing in good-news-ing grinds sharply against my evangelical upbringing and present instincts. Good-news-ing should be sharp and clear and reasonably quick,” say those instincts, “Not bogged down with all this gobbldigoop about some far flung public/private dualism.  Dualism shmuialism, Brandon: Jesus is at stake here!

A deeper voice than evangelicalism pesters me, too, for a more polished good-news-ing: the American Pragmatist in me says, “Oh, you can explain all that revolution hoo-ha once they’re in the fold and have Jesus in their heart.  Just give them a very basic pitch for now.  The political offense of the gospel can come later.”  There are times where that logic is apt.  The basic truth of God’s inescapable love, or of His broad intentions for the world, are enough (and to be sure God’s revolution fits most snugly within the framework of the love of the Triune God, not the other way ’round).  But usually, the gospel also carries a hard public edge in the New Testament.  Jesus’ upside-down kingdom proclamation and carry-your-cross invite rattled many.  And Paul’s claim that the true Lord of the world is, of all people, a crucified backwoods Jew was at least as pitiably, foolishly amusing as it was vulgarly offensive to the Greeks.  The array of good-news-ing given us in the Bible reminds us of the occasional brandishing of this gospel’s revolutionary and radical edge.  The marketing sensibilities of evangelicalism and American Pragmatism never get the last word on God’s gospel.

More than that, I take comfort in the various ways that the people we meet in the Bible tell the good news.  Some, like Isaiah, see it from a distance and describe it as the curse being undone (last bit of ch 55).  Others, like Jesus, describe it as the coming of the kingdom of God.  Paul says its Jesus crucified, or Jesus risen, or Jesus ascended and ruling, or Jesus crucified and risen and ascended and ruling.  Sometimes Paul says the cross is propitiatory, and other times it is the victory of God.  John scribes it out within the context of love, while other bits of the NT just call it a trusting, loving allegiance to Yahweh.

Sometimes it’s personal, other times it’s emphatically public.  Sometimes it’s fashioned to contrast with the Temple, other times with someone’s self-idolatry, other times with Caesar himself.  For me to get caught up by this lump in my throat about the political edge being in every single sharing of the gospel is as silly as trying to collapse all that diversity in biblical good-news-ing into one sharp formula. I’m doing the same offense to the gospel in trying to mold it after revolution as many evangelicals are in trying to hammer it into four spiritual laws or four circles on a napkin.  They’ve all got a purpose and a place.  God help me to see and celebrate this!

And that’s another beauty about the gospel: we can trust in its power no matter who’s telling it, how they’re telling it, or to whom they’re telling it.  When it comes naturally to me as God’s revolution, then I will feel gloriously free and secure in telling it that way.  When it bubbles up to a coworker as simply God’s inescapable love, and that revolution-skew is put off for later, the radical in me needn’t feel insecure and marginalized.

In the meantime, I ask Father, Bless me and my community with a fresh zeal for evangelizing about the Jesus Revolution that’s as fervent as that of any Obama fan, and as Spirit-filled as that of any mainstream evangelical.

RSS Awareness Day…Subscribe to JM Today!

May 1, 2008

Today is RSS awareness day. RSS is an amazing way of reading all of the sites you typically visit in one place, thus saving you time…and keeping you connected. You can subscribe to Jesus Manifesto via RSS by clicking the subscribe link at the top right of the site. Or you can subscribe to each specific category by clicking the RSS link next to each category title.

I use Google Reader as my RSS reader. It allows me to quickly check on my favorite news sites, blogs, forums, etc quickly without having to visit the site. If you are an RSS-er, add our feed. If you aren’t, then check out the video below, get Google Reader or one of these readers, add us to your feed, and go wild!

Classic JM: Crisis in Generica

December 24, 2007

This was originally posted on July 19, 2006:

As Emergent has emerged, as the missional engage in mission, an already popular sentiment has been growing more popular: the suburbs suck.

I used to agree. Its not that I enjoy the burbs more than I used to (my own pet name for the burbs is “generica”–that vast land of sameness which exists all accross the nation in every metro area.

But I now look at Generica with compassion. After all, Generica is in crisis. America is at the peak of its empire. And few enjoy the fruit from the imperial bounty as much as the residents of Generica. But whatever ailments come from the American Dream have been doubly visited upon the Genericans. They are twice as isolated, twice as empty, twice as fractured, twice as enslaved to consumerism, etc. There is a spiritual hunger–a hunger for freedom and joy and wholeness, and healing–in Generica.

In the aftermath of WWII, families fractured and the “nuclear family” rose to dominance. Instead of families living together. Mom, Dad, and the kids (and their dog spot) moved into their generic suburban homes. Home was no longer the center of community. Now it was a sanctuary, a refuge, from extended family, work, and oftentime neighbors. One now needed a car to go to work, to buy groceries, to visit friends. Suburbia reinforced the growing isolation.

These days, when we think of Genericans, we think of vacuous, vapid, consumers. Lonely plastic-people who pretend that everything is all right. Urban folk, and rural folk, both are suspicious of such plastic people. In our cities and towns the problems are obvious. The poor folk aren’t hidden. Our lives are lived in public. When we go to the streets of Generica (those streets with deceptively pretty names), everything looks the same…the pleasant exteriors betray the brokenness of their residents.

And in response, the Suburban church–the Church of Generica seeks to save these people by catering to their broken impulses. We feed the individualism by giving them individualized sermons (David Fitch can detail this phenomenon much better than I can). We try to attack the isolation by introducing small groups (which are usually pretty anemic and unoffensive…being centered on things like the Purpose Driven Life). And so the Generican Church tends to have the same ailments as the Generican people–and all their blessings as well (like resources and a value of excellence).
A spiritual crisis is growin in Generica. The people are dying there. They have money, but it has secured their sense of disillusionment. Materialism grows, but the people cry out for substance. They moved out to the burbs to find sanctuary, but they crave relationship.

But as missional pioneers emerge–those uniquely envisioned folks that can utter prophetic voice to their brothers and sisters in Generica–they flee to the cities with their obvious problems. Urban has its own challenges, to be sure, but it is easier to be missional in the city, in many ways, than it is to be missional in the burbs. Generica needs missional leaders. Missional leaders who reject the homogeneous unit principle (the idea that folks don’t like crossing cultural boundaries so we should do church in a way that appeals to particular cultures rather than being mulit-ethnic in our approach), who reject consumerism and materialism, who embrace authentic community, who care about the poor and the marginalized should come back to the suburbs and minister there. Generica is growing in its diversity. Generia has its poor. And most of the churches in Generica tend to assume that issues of race and poverty and crime are urban issues. But new churches must come to Generica.

Churches that value social justice.

Churches that cross cultural boundaries.

Churches that challenge consumerism.

Churches that build authentic community amidst fracture.

Who will respond to the cries for healing in the broken land of Generica?

Part 2: Encountering Empire with a Christ Shaped Imagination for the World

December 4, 2007

I was born and raised in a certain subculture of Christianity that has generally understood the work of Christ as being particularly attached to the time frame of the arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus. And while this is an important part of my faith, when I talk about letting Christ be the center and shaper of how we live our lives, this is not what I am talking about.

Jesus Christ was born as an infant; he lived among us; God shared in our humanity.

While Christianity has been fraught with debates as to how this works, it is central to the faith that in some way, God took on the human condition, entering humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. This incarnation is the central revelation of God that scriptures attest to.

This is the central lens of which I speak when I talk about a Christ centered imagination for the world.

The Incarnation—God fully entering humanity—is an act distinctly in keeping with God’s character as creator. So much of the consistency of who God is comes in God’s creativity and love. God desires to create and recreate relationship with humanity.

When we talk about following Jesus, being like Christ, and seeking to know God, we are in the realm of interacting with the God who incarnates. God takes on flesh. God creates. God is wildly creative and imaginative in the lengths to which God will go in order to reach a single human being (check out the parables).

Not only is Jesus interested in individual humans being restored, but he proclaims the message of the Kingdom of God. This is a broader imaginative vision that Jesus articulates. It is an invitation to creatively and imaginatively live the categories of the parables and the Lord’s prayer. As it is in heaven, so let it be also on earth.

When Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God (also sometimes as the kingdom of heaven) he is declaring it as being created and perpetuated here in our midst. It is not a kingdom like the empires of this world; instead, it is alive in the hearts and actions of those who live into it by faith in the restoring relationship we have with Jesus.

Learning to live by the kingdom of God means allowing our imaginations and our vision for the world to be shaped by Christ. This means that our imagination, and thus our vision for ethics and interaction with others are shaped by the categories of creation, incarnation, and resurrection.

What happens when we approach people with the hope of these categories being worked out in their lives? What happens when we believe and live in the hope of our relationship with the God who becomes like us in order to know and transform us? How does this impact the way we see the church at work in the beauty and depravity of the lives of people all around us?

As we enter the Advent season, I hope that we will allow Emmanuel to continue to incarnate in our lives and our vision for ourselves and the world. Allowing Christ to shape our imagination for the world helps us to live in the space between what is already and what we strain toward that is not yet manifest among us.

Come quickly Lord Jesus, as you have come, and you are here with us today. Continue to incarnate yourself among us through our hearts and lives being shaped to extend your love and create your kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven.

Encountering Empire with a Christ Shaped Imagination for the World

November 29, 2007

God invites us into communion through Christ. God enters our world in the incarnation, and continues to create in and among us. Not only this, but God invites us through the Spirit of God into the incarnation of Christ. As we enter the communion of Christ then we become the body of Christ in the world. We are offered as God’s communion to the world, inviting the world into relationship with God.

But what about brokenness and sin?

Sin messes with the community(communion) we have with God. Yet God continues to offer community back to the world. So then, from a sacramental understanding, communion is held within Christianity (to varying degrees) as a means of God’s grace.

If in Christ we are offered as communion to the world, we are called to intersect with the problem of sin. But what does the intersection with sin look like? I am not convinced that the primary lens should be about punishment, guilt, or penal substitution. Instead, I believe that the key paradigm is reconciliation through Jesus Christ.

Jesus offered language for thinking about what the invitation to community with God looks like. He calls it the “Kingdom of God.” The Kingdom of God is the reality of community with God through reconciliation in Christ. It is a new reality that intersects the reality of a world of relationships broken by sin.

The empire we reference on this site (as I read it) is somewhat synonymous with systems and relationships that operate in the brokenness of sin. We are invited into restored relationship with Christ to live in the kingdom of God here and now.

As we view the sin and brokenness of life under the empire’s systems that destroy communion with God in the world, we are called to engage in a new dialog with sin.

Instead of thinking of God as looking for chances to destroy and annihilate sin, we are called to see God for who Jesus shows us God is. We need to allow our minds to be disciplined in the practice of imagining what God’s hope is for our world.

This is part of community with God. It is also the place where we can be offered as communion to the world. Instead of being separatists or having disdain for the sin of the world, we can participate in the imaginative, playful, and reconciling hope of God for the world.

What does it look like for us to actively imagine life in the lens of Jesus’ kingdom?

Rather than living our lives in conformity with the ways of the empire around us we are called into kingdom of God.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2 (TNIV)

Church and Money

November 28, 2007

Like Mark, our church is also fundraising for a building that can serve as a permanent home in the midst of the community we love. Through this process, we have had to ask a lot of questions about how we can raise money and still remain faithful to the way of Jesus. It seems to me that an “anything goes” philosophy is probably not acceptable, but how do we begin to discern which approaches are okay and which are not?

For instance, this weekend we were at my wife’s grandparents’ house for Thanksgiving. One of her cousins, who is on staff at a church of 22,000 people, had a copy of his church newspaper. Not newsletter…newspaper. According to their website, the newspaper has a circulation of over 30,000 homes. They sell advertising space for $1375 for a full page ad. The newspaper was filled with pizza coupons, oil change inserts, “christian” businesses that we should all support, etc.

To me, selling advertising space is probably not okay…Naming rights for the sanctuary? The “Taco Bell Library”? Sponsors names flashing on the screen between worship songs? But what about other common church fundraisers: bake sales, garage sales, and car washes. Are these acceptable? What about sending support letters and asking people directly for money? What basis do we use to discern the appropriateness of these methods? How do we balance the reality of the need for money, in our case for money that comes from outside of our church community, with the desire to approach the need for money with integrity to our biblical values?

A Parable

November 23, 2007

Once upon a time God’s cat got away.

God had just moved into his new place, and the cat, like all of his sort, was out of sorts about it being unfamiliar territory, and decided to walk. No sooner was Mr Cat out the door than there came a loud, unexpected noise, leading him to take Rapid Evasive Maneuvers up the nearest surface, which brought him instantaneously to the roof.

He looked around. It was a fine, expansive vantage, the sky above and many little people way down below, so far away he could imagine playing with them all! He thought about how clever he’d been, to reach such heights, such a marvelous place to sun himself (until the sun went down) and rest (until he got hungry.) Was there anything to eat up here?

It looked like a very long way down. Maybe he should sun himself now, climb down later. But it had been hours since his last meal. “Merrow???!”

God came out the door and looked up at him. “You’ve really done it this time, haven’t you! I suppose you’ll be wanting me to help you down from there!”

Mr. Cat, stung by the comment, proceeded to rub against the roof’s edge and purr. Help down? What on earth for?

“All right,” God told him. “But don’t stay too long. I just put some caviar in your bowl, and I don’t want it to get stale.” He went in the house and closed the door.

“Merroww!”

God came out, carrying a kitchen chair. He set the chair on the porch, stood on the chair, reached up.

“MerrOW!!” It looked a very small hand, a very far drop! Mr. Cat backed away, ears back. God reached for him. Mr. Cat took a swipe, left a nasty scratch across God’s knuckles, went a little further out of reach.

What, you ask, will God do about this? Will he leave Mr. Cat up there to stew until the caviar sounds better and the drop doesn’t look so far? Will he burn the house down? Will he set up a vast Cat Barbeque and eat cat for eternity? Ask your nearest Theologian and get the Right Answer, before it’s too late!

God vs Empire Revisited

November 21, 2007

November 11, 2007

3768 El Cajon Blvd
San Diego, CA 92105 Re Jury Summons #008298989 for December 10, 2007

After considerable reflection, I find that my religion does not allow me to serve as a juror under your system of government.

For one thing, my scruples about rendering forced honors to secular authorites (see Curo vs San Diego Municipal Court, 1997) are a source of inconvenience to both of us.

But the source of those scruples is my allegiance to the government of the Messiah Jesus, known as Christ. Where the human law judges, condemns, and seeks to protect itself through vengeance…The way of God, as I understand it through Jesus, says otherwise: I am to judge not, to condemn not, to fear not those who can harm the body but only the One with ultimate authority over body and soul. I am even told: “Do not set myself against a man who would harm me,” as the New English Bible properly interprets Matthew 5:28.

Futhermore, I can not bind myself to follow the instructions of a human judge, who may well tell me to follow some human law regardless of its inequity, or to pretend not to recognize some fact I have just seen or heard. I may serve only my one master, who is not that principality called Law, or even the Justice it was once intended to serve.

As the only Christian relationship I could see toward your court would be as a potential victim, it seems best that I do not appear, but simply ask to be excused.

Forrest Curo

Make Something Day!

November 21, 2007

imageFrom the Ecclesia Collective comes Make Something Day.  It sounds like a great idea…more than simply ignoring consumer capitalism on “Black Friday” (the day after Thanksgiving), Make Something Day is a call to a DIY counter-ethic.  Here’s the description from their site:

In response to the over-consumptive habits of western culture, Adbusters magazine has been promoting Buy Nothing Day for years now. The Friday after Thanksgiving is typically marked as the highest buying day for Americans. But we live in a world that can no longer handle our consumptive habits here in the west. And while we pile up on things we don?t need a large portion of the world exists without basic human needs being met every day. We applaud Buy Nothing Day? but it isn?t enough for us. As followers of Jesus, we believe that giving is a central part of the lifestyle we are trying to embody. So, we replaced the negative with something positive: Make Something Day. Go ahead and give gifts this holiday season. As they say, giving is better than receiving. But that doesn?t mean buying something is. So, we encourage folks to avoid shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Instead, stay home, put a log on the fire and try making something for someone. Don?t feel creative? Visit the BuyNothingChristmas.org website for some good ideas to get you started.

Feel free to share any ideas about what you might make in the comments section.  What am I going to make?  Good question.  I usually make candy or food for gifts…but with the Big Holiday a month away, it is likely to spoil between now and Christmas. So, for Make Something Day, I figure I’ll do a couple of things:

1) I’ll finish editing the Missio Dei Breviary.  Sure, I’ll end up having to buy copies to give away, but its a start. :)

2) I might make a few of those “bake it yourself” kits…you know, the kind where you add all the ingredients to a jar and then the recipient simple adds water, or water and eggs, to make a flavor sensation.

Go to ecclesiacollective.org/makesomethingday for more information.

Unilever: You Can’t Have It Both Ways

November 20, 2007

I’m not usually one to sound the trumpet on behalf of brands and corporations, but recently, I’ve been quite impressed by Dove, two of their videos: Onslaught and Evolution, and some of the stuff their doing with their ’self esteem fund.’ They as a large brand identity have media influence that many smaller organizations trumpeting the same causes don’t have, and to the degree that it is helping young girls realize true beauty, I applaud them. Unfortunately, it’s also tied to their brand in hopes of hooking these young girls to the message that ‘true beauty’ = ‘Dove’.

But, that’s not even the real problem. The problem is that Dove is only a brand. A brand that is owned by the company Unilever, a huge international corporation, that creates tons of the brands you are so familiar with. One of those brands, if you look right over here, is AXE, one of the very brands creating the image problems young girls face.

This is one of the huge problems with Corporations attempting to do ‘good.’ Unilever as a corporation is actually bound by law to do what is in the best interest of their stockholders. It seems like they’ve put together a winning combination.

First, they draw in their male consumers through the use of sex appeal to buy their men’s products in the Axe brand, and then they capture the female audience whose been so distraught, depressed, and hurt by the images they’re being forced to compare themselves to by offering them the Dove brand and the comforting reassurance that comes with it.

You wouldn’t be in support of a crack dealer just because he took 15% of his profits and ran a drug rehab facility would you?

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