I was reading a few articles at Patheos by Christian Piatt, founder of Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado USA.(1)
He writes about dealing with some challenging social issues in “inner-city Portland” – issues with poor and homeless people, drug addicts, uninvited tenants:
“If ever there was a time when I felt like ministry was an act of complete vanity, this was it. I could just as well be the priest in Ecclesiastes, wailing to the heavens about the pointlessness of it all. Three people come to me; three people are turned away with little or nothing. Those at the margins of society – ominous, violent or unsavory as they may be – are threatened with forcible removal if they trespass on our sacred space.
I have no good news. If there is any, I am hopelessly blind to it. The system is broken, and we are broken with it. The religious systems have failed the people they claim to serve, and our social safety nets have holes large enough for lives to slip through, nearly undetected. So I wept bitter tears at my desk, threw a few things against the wall, packed up and drove to my house in the suburbs where my family waited for me.
I am not in the likeness of Christ today. Sometimes I wonder, for all of our studying, worshiping and evangelism, how many of us even ever catch a glimpse of what we’re really supposed to be about. For today, my only prayer is taken straight from Ecclesiastes:
Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”
Rebecca Trotter wrote a response to Piatt’s blog post (my emphasis in bold type):
I hope this doesn’t come out as trite – I certainly don’t mean it to be. But I’ve loved some pretty hopeless cases over the years and have come to believe that maybe fixing anything for anyone isn’t the point. I think we’re supposed to just love the best we can, without regard for results or appreciation or anything. Just love in order to learn to love the way God does. Just because that’s who we are – loving people. And then just trust that God provides the increase and the real power. And maybe the least of these really are like Jesus – not subject to being rescued or delivered from their suffering, but with a role to play the likes of which we can hardly imagine now.
She ends with a quote by the Christian mystic, Julian of Norwich
“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”
I’m jumping around a bit, but there is a sort of thread to all this – so bear with me:
(a) I remember well the controversy surrounding the Johannesburg Central Methodist Church Bishop Paul Verryn who, in attempting to live a Christ-centred life in support of thousands of Zimbabwean refugees, immigrants and the poor, fell foul of his own church laws and an ANC government seemingly hell-bent on assassinating both his character and work. See the interesting Jan 2010 article by Faranaaz Parker of the Mail & Guardian, which shows just how ugly things became for someone seeking to imitate Christ.
(b) I have a tatty old copy of The Discarded People: An Account of African Resettlement in South Africa by the late Cosmas Desmond, a Franciscan friar. The stories he relates are harrowing – an eyewitness account of the oppression and racist cruelty under Apartheid and its devastating effects on lives and communities.
So where am I going with these seemingly unrelated stories?
The “thread” is found in the words of the Christian songwriter Michael Card, in his 1988 song Why:
For all who seek to love
A thorn is all the world has to give
This the heart of the matter. For Christian Piatt, for a Paul Verryn, for a Cosmas Desmond, all who in their own way seek to see Christ’s Kingdom come, there is the realization that Christ’s words remain as true now as when they were spoken two thousand years ago:
“My kingdom is not of this world.
If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders.
But now my kingdom is from another place.”
There is this tension between seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and accepting that no dominionist christian utopia is possible nor theologically justifiable. This is where Rebecca Trotter’s words are so important: there are no accolades, there are setbacks, failures. Our hearts at times fail us. People fail us. Our government or church, people we trust. But this is not the final word. At Golgotha, the place of the skull, Jesus cried out
“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) – itself a lament from Psalm 22.
Researching this post I stumble upon a powerful sermon by Luke Powery, Associate Professor of Homiletics at Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina. The entire sermon is worth reading. Some excerpts:
“A cry of forsakenness. A cry of abandonment.”
“This loud cry declares that there is something wrong with the imperial system of the day. This loud cry says that there is something wrong with the religious system of the day. This expression of lament, according to Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann, basically declares “life is not right!” So when Jesus cries out he reveals his dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs. Jesus is put to death because of blasphemy and sedition. He represents another religious and political order as Messiah and King. His cry critiques the norm, what is normal, so the religious and political powers of the day attempt to kill the cry of Jesus. They not only want to put Jesus to death but they want to destroy those loud cries that come from the oppressed. Jesus cried out, in Mark, with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani? My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” “Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.” Jesus’s final melody is in the tune of a Psalm 22 loud cry of a lament, that same lament that one scholar says “danced and swayed” in the belly of the slave ships of the Middle Passage. What else can you do at the foot of the cross? What else can you do on a cross? But lament! My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
“So cry out. Cry out with a loud voice. Lift every voice. Let it resound loud as the rolling sea. Cry out loud until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream. Cry out loud until the wolf lies down with the lamb. Cry out loud until death and mourning are no more. Cry out loud until new systems and structures are put in place to protect the innocent and convict the guilty. Cry out loud until the “New Jim Crow” prison industrial complex is destroyed. Cry out loud for the Trayvon Martin’s of the world. Cry out loud for the Iraqi immigrant, Shaima Alawadi, who was killed in California, left to die next to a note that told her to go back to her own country. Cry out loud against hatred of any kind. Cry out loud for the poor and cry out loud against the system that keeps them poor. Cry out loud for the orphan. Cry out loud for the widow. Cry out loud for Jesus. Cry out loud to Jesus. If someone didn’t cry out, slavery would still be in existence. If someone didn’t cry out, the Jim Crow laws would not have been abolished. If someone didn’t cry out, blacks and women would have never received voting rights. If someone didn’t cry out, Duke would not be commemorating 50 years of its first black undergraduate students. If Jesus never cried out, the temple curtain would not have been torn. If Jesus never cried out, the centurion would still be spiritually blind. If Jesus never cried out, we wouldn’t have unmediated access to God. But because Jesus cried out, we can know that even lament is worship. Because Jesus cried out on the cross, we can learn that God will never leave us nor forsake us. If I ascend to heaven, God, my God, is there and if I make my bed in Sheol, God, my God, is there. So cry out, don’t drop out of the Christian race. Because when you cry out loud, you will learn “dominion belongs to the Lord” and “proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.” Because when you cry out loud, God will take the thing that has been hurting and hindering and harming you and do just like God did with the veil of the temple, and tear it up from top to bottom.”
– From the sermon “My God, My God, Why?” preached by the Rev. Dr. Luke A. Powery on Good Friday, March 29, 2013, at Duke Chapel, Durham, North Carolina.
Notes and further reading:
When Ministers Lose Their Faith
Michael is a graduate of Western Kentucky University, where he earned his bachelors and master degrees in biblical studies. Michael has also received honorary PhD’s in music and Christian education from Whitfield Seminary and Philadelphia Biblical University. Michael lives in Franklin, Tennessee, where, with a group of close friends, he pursues racial reconciliation and neighborhood renewal. He and his wife, Susan, have four children and one grandchild. http://www.michaelcard.com/biography
My Kingdom is Not of This World
The error of Dominion Theology
Dominion Theology is a group of Christian political ideologies that seek to institute a nation governed by Christians based on Christian understandings of biblical law. Extents of rule and ways of achieving governing authority are varied. For example, Dominion Theology can include theonomy, but does not necessarily involve advocating Mosaic law as the basis of government. The label is applied primarily toward groups of Protestants in the United States.
Prominent adherents of these ideologies are otherwise theologically diverse, including Calvinist Christian Reconstructionism, Charismatic/Pentecostal Kingdom Now theology, New Apostolic Reformation and others. Most of the contemporary movements labeled Dominion Theology arose in the 1970s from religious movements reasserting aspects of Christian nationalism.
Luke Powery, Associate Professor of Homiletics at Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina