I would like to listen in on a conversation between Paul and Jesus. It feels to me as though Paul took Jesus’ idea of the kingdom of God and mutated it, morphed it, into Christianity. For instance, Paul says, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” Jesus said “The kingdom of God is in your midst, among you.” The kingdom becoming flesh and blood is what Jesus was all about.
The church is the incarnation of the kingdom of God, just as Jesus was the incarnation of the kingdom of God. When Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world,” he didn’t mean it wasn’t, or that it wasn’t to be, a physical, actual, tangible, visible, incarnated reality within the world. He didn’t mean it was “spiritual” or “heavenly,” without worldly implications or impact. He meant it did not operate as a political entity in the world of political entities. He meant it was grounded upon a different reality that that of the world of normal apparent reality, where armies clash with armies to determine whose will will, whose way, will prevail. He meant it was radically non-violent, just, and compassionate.
We are to incarnate, to live out of, live in light of, the alternative reality of God (the “kingdom of God”) in each moment of our living. We cannot do that without paying attention to what we are doing. We have to live with our eyes open, thinking about who we are and what we are about. We have to be conscious, aware, of Identity, Vision, Focus, Purpose, Clarity, and Values (like Justice, Compassion, and Peace, for instance) in each moment of our living. Each moment is the place we bring to life the alternative reality of God within the ordinary world of normal, apparent, reality. And, we do not do that without meaning to, without being deliberate and intentional with what we say and do, and how we say and do it.
We bring God to life in the moment, or not. In each moment the Word of God, the Radical Alternative Reality of God, comes to life in us and through us, or not. To pick up our cross daily and follow Jesus is to bear in our bodies the tension of the two kingdoms, of the two worlds, of the two realities. How do we live in this world as those who belong to that world? How do we incarnate in this world the alternative reality of that world? That is the work of the church in the world.
As the Kingdom Movement of Jesus was “transitioned” into Christianity, through the centuries to here and now, doctrines and belief became more important that living faithfully in light of the alternative reality of the kingdom of God. We could “believe” our way into the kingdom that “flesh and blood” would not inherit. Right belief replaced faithful living—living faithfully aligned with the values and the orientation of the kingdom of God—as the essential element in Christianity. People were told “Prosperity now and heaven when you die,” if they repented of their sins, confessed faith in Jesus, and were baptized into the church. And pagans and heretics were burned at the stake for not believing what should be believed. How did THAT work its way into what Jesus left behind?
The stake, as much as anything else, represents the failure of the church to carry forward Jesus’ understanding of the kingdom of God. The church is always at the place of returning to the source, to the core, to the heart of “who we are and what we are about.” We are here to live faithfully aligned with the values and orientation of the kingdom of God. We are here to incarnate the kingdom of God within the ordinary world of normal, apparent reality. We are here to envision and live out of the alternative reality of the kingdom of God. Not to do it the way the world does it, and expects it to be done, but to do it the way God would do it if God were in our bodies, wearing our clothes.
I see the following as being characteristic of the alternative reality of God:
Being good for nothing—doing what is good whether it does any good or not.
No hierarchy. The Priesthood of All Believers. Equality up and down the line.
No plan for achieving victory—giving to the moment what is needed in the moment and letting the outcome be the outcome.
The power of attentive, compassionate Presence—looking and seeing, listening and hearing, without bias or prejudice, in the best tradition of “judge not.”
Not looking for the advantage—being here to serve not be served—not gathering the boon unto ourselves but sharing it with all others, equally, across the board.
Taking what we have, where we are, and working with it toward the good of all things.
Respecting differences, honoring those who are different.
Allowing, embracing, a world full of varied responses to the experience of the Holy Among Us.
Understanding justice as the equitable distribution of resources, goods and power, or, distributing resources, goods and power equally, or giving everyone a place at the table and a voice in the conversation.
Living an unscripted life. Living extemporaneously in response to the moment. Improvising our response to the moment out of the materials available to us in the moment. Having an idea in mind, but being able to express that idea in unique and creative ways, without being bound to The Book in any way.
The list will be lengthened over time…