Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Kingdom and Power

The kingdom of God is a realm where class systems no longer exist. In the kingdom, systems of power have been subverted. Jesus knew it, Paul knew it, but the religious people just couldn't get it.

Over time, Christianity has adopted the power and social systems of the world. We have read things back into the scriptures to create hierarchy and clergy. Not only that, but we have also overlooked our own tendencies toward exclusivity and elitism, our inability to truly love.

At the risk of harping on this subject, please let me explain. While exploring the topic of position and power, I feel like my eyes have suddenly been opened to an aspect of the gospel that I haven't understood before.

It is as if I am looking through a new lens. I find myself needing to go back and read through the gospels and the epistles because I need to see what they look like through the new lens.

It is difficult sharing an aha! moment because-- first, it just doesn't translate well, and second, it is probably not an aha! to someone else.

One of the neat things about the blogosphere is that usually someone has had the same epiphany already and explained it in better ways than I could. In this case, Scott at Theopraxis was exploring this topic last June and July.

In his post Politics of a Different Kind he says:

Jesus intended to create a new community, a new people, marked by a new approach to being people in community and characterized by a radical, subversive approach to authority and power. If this contention is true, and I am fairly confident in it, then what we must recognize is that the gospel calls us, as participants in and members of that very community, to follow in the footsteps of Christ in our relationships, in our approach to authority and power, and in our understandings of citizenship and politics in the more traditional sense.

Continuing in Scott's post about the Dynamics of Power:

But clearly, in example after example, Jesus subverts power through submission and service. He transforms dynamics rooted in domination to ones birthed in love. Not only that, but he holds out his example for all who would be greatest in his kingdom - it's truly an inversion of worldly power structures, creating a radically different community built around radically different dynamics.

As followers of Christ, we no longer have the option of wielding power in the ways of the world - we are called to something greater by virtue of being lesser.

And finally in his post Galatians as Politics he says:

This is why it is such a big deal that Peter sits with the cool kids at lunch. What the gospel means - what is so beautiful and amazing and mysterious about it - is that in Christ, all other social distinctives evaporate. Nothing remains but unity in Christ through the Spirit. For Peter to continue to observe the laws of segregation is nothing less than a denial of the very gospel itself.

Can you feel it? Can you feel how incredibly radical this is? This gospel that calls us to lay down any and all differences that would divide us - there is nothing else like it. Paul is preaching a politics of an altogether new kind, a social identity that is based not on ethnicity, not on gender, not on socioeconomic status, but that is based solely on belonging to Christ.

I'm a bit excited about this - you'll have to bear with me. Do you realize what kind of people we would be if we only recognized the depth to which the gospel calls us to set aside our differences?

(Can you feel the aha! or is it just me?)

Finally, Scott recently had a couple of excellent posts that are more specifically related to issues of gender and power in the church, The Boys Club and Church and Power. These are all well worth reading if this topic interests you.

Thanks Scott for the excellent work you've done in writing about this.

I'll get back to you with some final thoughts about what this means to me on a more personal level as soon as I finish reading the New Testament again.


Mike Croghan said...

This is *great* stuff, grace. Many thanks for it. Yeah, I'm starting to get the aha! and it seems like a lot of my recent encounters have been pointing me toward it.

ScottB said...

Glad you found a few things to chew on! :)

If you're looking for some really good musings on this, the book that generated my own "aha" moment is John Howard Yoder's Politics of Jesus. As I was reading it, I sort of felt like a benevolent virus was rewriting all of my theological software. It remains one of the most influential books that I've ever read. It's dangerous in a sense - once the genie is out of the bottle, there's no going back. I simply can't read the scriptures in the same way having read Yoder.

Anyway - keep thinking out loud. You've got some good musings here yourself. ;)

Gary Means said...

Thanks so much for sharing this. It's been far too long since I've visited your blog. See what I've been missing!

Pam Hogeweide said...

I'm telling you Grace, this is just too spooky. Just today I specifically launched myself into a study of the gospel of Mark to specifically examine Jesus' use of power. My notes from today: Jesus chose to be baptized by his cousin John...this is humility and power laid down right there from the beginning of his public ministry. Before chapter one is finished he has healed a leper whom he tells, "Say nothing..." Now why would Jesus say this? Because of the crowds? What if it was an attempt to curb the superstar syndrome that was sure to come once word got out about his healing power?

I think you're right Grace. We've got the whole power thing all messed up. How does the kingdom of God manifest itself in homes and churches and communities and government? This is what I am thinking about as I read with new eyes the story of Christ, the son of God.

grace said...

Thanks Mike! I believe I was also being led to new understanding. God is good.

Scott, it was so great reading what you had written and sensing the same wonder in your words that I was feeling. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and for the book recommendation. I wonder how many more genies are in this bottle?

Hi gary. Great to see you again. It sounds like you have some exciting things going on. I've been following with interest as I'm able (usually on weekends). I need to get back in the habit of commenting also when I drop by.

Maybe I'll take some notes as I'm reading so I can share the stories that stand out to me. And the next question is, what does this mean to a middle-aged suburban housewife?

Lily said...

Hi Grace,

Fantatic post (as usual). I am just begining to be interested in this issue (thanks to Pam - "Hi Pam" - Lily waves) and I look forward to exploring this concept of power in the Kingdom. I appreciate your "a-ha" moment, and I will dig through the posts you mentioned.

Oh, and thanks for stopping by my blog the other day. I appreciate the thoughts.

grace said...

Hi lily. It's great to see you.

I just wanted you to know that I was thinking of you.