Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The City, the Kingdom and Nice Things – Part 1

Before, I start on this entry let me say the following:
1. Christianity, like all things, is more caught than taught. I believe things are learned through "Observation, imitation and then discussion". I have found that blogging is a pretty difficult media to explain radical ideas that are based on a nuanced principle without first having people visit and observe what the application in its immature form looks like. Also, I find the discussion element in blogging is a lot like jazz. It isn’t every detail that is important it is the chances we take that makes it all beautiful.
2. I see learning to live out Jesus' teachings on simplicity and materialism to be no different than learning to live out Jesus' teachings on loving your enemies or humbling yourself. They are learned like gymnastics - progressively. So in the same way we are not perfect in terms of love and humility, so too we are not perfect with respect to simplicity and materialism.

Also, if you are here from Gideon Strauss's blog and discussion and you haven’t read this(Hebrew and Greek Views of the Journey) please do. OK onward..

Gideon Strauss in a very short blog entry said the following:

A biblical cosmopolitanism ... ... is what we need as a corrective to the romantic agrarian notion of the rural utopian enclave. This is about more than a city/country distinction. It is also about where our hope is to be found, how we are to be rooted, to what or whom we belong ... ultimately.

I would like to focus on this very last phrase…I interpret that Gideon is saying that seeing life as city life as opposed to rural life is more in line with the ultimate state, which we all know is in the “city” of God. To this entry of Gideon’s, I responded “so Gideon does this mean that after all is said and done the Kingdom of God is about buildings and food”. This comment was a reference to a few ideas:

1. Gideon is referencing the City in Revelation 21 and I was wondering if maybe he was taking this passage literally. I think he is saying our ultimate state is a city. Steven Covey says, “Begin with the end in mind” so my interpretation of Gideon’s entry is that if we are going to live in a city get used to it and internalize a kingdom vision of a city. This post is primarily going to be a review of the meaning of Revelation 21. The meaning of the city and the feast in the kingdom is not about nice buildings and nice food. I am sure Gideon would agree. I think???

2. My humorous little comment about "buildings and food" was actually a reference to a Talking Heads album called "more songs about buildings and food". My statement was a double entendre. The Talking Heads were a highly stylized art band. Their emphasis was on form and style. I was trying to critique what appears to my mind to be a high value of the material aesthetic of things. Gideon revealed this in his post on his utopia. I thought it strange to see the ideal state (Utopia) as being primarily materially "pleasing to the eye". Because I cannot fathom that these perceptions of mine could possibly be either Dr. Strauss's intention or part of the neo-Calvinist vision of things, I asked the question, "Gideon, are you saying that after all the Kingdom is about buildings and food".

3. Thirdly, I was obviously quoting the Apostle Paul who said, "kingdom of God is not about food and drink, but justice, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit". (Rom. 14:17)

So my question still remains, does a neo-Calvinist vision of the ultimate state lend one to sacrifice justice and simplicity for the sake of creating aesthetically pleasing cultural artifacts? Or if we think the kingdom is about nice buildings and enjoyable food, even partially, will we undermine the journey into the Kingdom of justice, peace and joy which comes through the presence of the Lord in our midst (my paraphrase of Paul)?

My View of Revelation 21:11ff
I have posted on this once before so I will be brief. Rev. 21 says,
9One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 11It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, ...streets of gold...

The angel is going to show John a vision of the bride, the church in her glory. Then he sees a vision of a beautiful city with streets of gold and pearly gates etc. This is prophetic vision (metaphor) of the Glory of God (his Moral Attributes) displayed in the church. The city is beautiful because its moral qualities are so stunningly beautiful. To enter the community is like entering through pearl gates into a city with streets of gold. It is the community in which justice dwells. It is the city in which righteousness dwells. The presence of God is its light and its source of its glory. This is the kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Jesus says, “You are this city set on a hill but if you lose your saltiness (moral distinction) you are worthless and you will be trampled over by the world around you”. Jesus then goes on to explain the key elements of this moral distinctiveness which empowers the witness of the church. Forgiveness, love of enemies, peaceful spirit as opposed to anger, a controlled tongue, prayerfulness and a radical expression of simplicity,

In Jesus’ teachings on simplicity Jesus says, “Do not worry about what you eat or what you wear. These things the world seeks after. Look at the lilies of the field they neither spin nor sew, yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like any of these. How much more valuable are you than they. So therefore, do not store up treasures on earth. Instead make treasures in heaven. You cannot serve God and money.” (my paraphrase). Jesus is saying as much as you try to compare beautiful things that you create, cultural artifacts, they will never be as valuable as people. Therefore, give to the poor. If you have to choose between a nice thing (a treasure) or a person, the person is always more valuable. I give you a gift, the poor, in which to practice your charity. Do not seek buildings and food, but seek the kingdom and God will provide for you like any good government will provide for its soldiers.

The question then is how can the church maintain its moral distinction without changing our understanding of a Christians relationship to nice things. It is platonic to think that Jesus’ concept of treasures in this passage is not to mean “nice things” or expensive cultural artifacts (like Solomon’s clothes). The Hebrew mind would never think Jesus was talking about our heart attitude. That which you possess is that which you value is the meaning of the phrase, “Where your treasure is there is your heart also, you cannot serve God and money”.

If the church is to return to the moral distinctiveness of the early church, we must also return to the simplicity of Christ and the apostles. We must begin by understanding the “end”, the city spoken of by John, the Utopian vision, to be a picture of a community of justice, peace and joy through the immediate presence of the Lord in our midst. We must display our love for neighbor through sacrificing the material things we love in acts of charity to all our brothers. “If you behold your brother in need and withhold from him how can the love of God be in you” (1 John 3:16)

So when I ask: Is the kingdom about buildings and food, I am asking do we glorify God by creating exquisite cultural artifacts that are a reflection of God’s grace in us or do we instead, so long as there is poverty on earth, express God’s incarnational compassion through wise acts of charity? You think these two are not mutually exclusive, I think Jesus teaches that indeed they are for “you cannot serve God and money”. And anyway, why not err on the side of love in this matter.

God Bless,

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