When the Kingdom overwhelms

As servants in the Kingdom of God it’s easy to be overwhelmed. We are given much to do, and often it seems little strength to do it. Micah tells us “what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Well, it’s easy to love kindness as long as it’s directed at us. It’s a lot harder to love kindness enough to show it when we’re angry or feel attacked. And we may serve those around us, feeling that in making ourselves last we make ourselves humble, but we are so quick to judge others as inferior to us. And justice? Some days we mix it up with vengeance, and other days we may not see it at all. When someone asks if we’d like a cup of coffee, do we stop to ask if the people who grew that coffee were paid a fair price for their work? Are we just when we accept?

James, the brother of Jesus, was called “James the Just” and he tells us that “religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” We cannot walk down a street nor drive to town without seeing someone who is in need of care. As servants in the kingdom, our call is to care for them, but so often their need scares us, overwhelms us, and we make ourselves blind to it.

There is so much we are called to do, and so little with which to do it. Christ is the savior of the world, and in following Him we can so easily convince ourselves that we too must save the world.

Is this what the Kingdom of God does to us? Does the call to serve the world merely drag us down into our own hopelessness?

There is a story that teaches us about the Kingdom, and our places in it. In Matthew, Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to

a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

The Kingdom calls us to service, and it keeps calling. Some respond to the call at dawn, and others at day’s end, but all who respond do the Kingdom’s work and are equals within it. Some hear the call to run a food bank, while others hear the call to offer someone part of their lunch. Some hear the call to be a counselor, while others hear the call to console their friend. Some give vast amounts of money to charity, while others spend a weekend helping build a house for someone who needs it. None of us can respond to every call of the Kingdom of God, but all of us can respond to our calls.

We cannot save the world, but each of us can listen for and respond to our call, and when we do we step fully into the Kingdom. None of us are the perfect servants, but all can serve, and in the Kingdom, all service is good. All servants are the same. Do not be overwhelmed by all of the world’s sorrows when you are called to serve. Whether you respond at dawn or at dusk, you step into the Kingdom of God by simply responding. Just as we ask God to “give us this day our daily bread,” and no more, all God asks of us is that we give this day our daily work. Tomorrow’s call is tomorrow. Let us serve today.

Some things I’ve been reading

I lieu of sharing my own thoughts, here are some other people’s writings that have impacted me lately.

Awkward from Carl McColman.

Jesus Walking On The Water: A Sermon Sarcastic and Serious from Nadia Bolz-Weber

Reading Revolution: 14 Marvelous Modern Libraries

Just Another Woman at Michfest from Alice Kalafarski

A Prayer for Humility by William Barclay

Greenbelt Sermon from Nadia Bolz-Weber

Worshipping God Through Our Sorrow from Caleb Wilde

Encountering The Monster That I Am from Peter Rollins

The Trash of the World: Paul And Universalism from Peter Rollins

“What We Need Is Here” by Wendell Berry

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

Quiet

O God, make us children of quietness and heirs of peace.
~ St. Clement, from The Doubleday Prayer Collection

I have been wondering lately how the ubiquity of the Internet and the culture of the Internet at this point in time affect the ways we communicate and the ways I communicate. I have been and am thankful for the technology that has allowed for disparate voices to be heard and for connections to be formed despite geography. So many people now have the platform to share their thoughts with countless others, and to do so directly, mediated only by the technology. It has undoubtedly changed my life for the better.

But in some ways the effects have not been so wonderful. In the din of billions of voices I’m desperate to be heard, and I feel that most of the other people I encounter online are as well. We, perhaps, become more and more solidified in our thoughts (and in our hearts) because we are competing for a limited amount of attention from others. If we simply say it louder, strong and without compromise then we’re bound to get a stronger response, a stronger validation, right? Right?

I look at my own desire to be heard and the ways I’ve shaped my ways of thinking to fit into the instant-response culture of the Internet, and I’m not sure I like the ways I’ve been speaking and writing. If I don’t immediately respond to a discussion, it moves along without me. If I take the time to consider my response then by the time it’s ready to be shared it has become irrelevant. Faced with communication possibilities hardly dreamed of when I was younger, I see that slow, measured, considered communication is lost. Again I’ve given circumstances in which loud, strong, uncompromising communication is valued, especially when it’s instant.

In some ways we’re losing ourselves in the flood of humanity we’re exposed to daily. We respond to that by holding ourselves to stronger ideas of self, by having instant responses, by talking louder and faster in the hope that something, anything will be heard in the deluge of voices. We’re so desperate to be heard that we don’t listen. We don’t stop. We don’t allow ourselves to be changed by others. We’re so afraid that our silence means our own death that we refuse to listen each other into existence.

I crave more silence. I crave more listening. I’m afraid of losing myself in that listening, but if I truly believe what I recently wrote, that I only exist in relationship, then in order to live my self I have to allow for the vulnerability of hearing and being heard. That means letting go of the hard hearted core of “self” to which I cling and opening to the question of who I am and who we are. That means silences, both in turn and shared. I’ll never be more myself than when I truly hear and am heard by the Other.

O Jesus, Son of God, who was silent before Pilate, do not let us wag our tongues without thinking of what we are to say and how to say it.
~ Irish Gaelic Prayer, from The Doubleday Prayer Collection

The Queerness of Christ: And over Or

Two weeks ago, Shannon T. L. Kearns wrote an impassioned call for a Queer Theology Synchroblog.. His post got my wheels turning, and what follows is what I wrote in response.

Santuary Collective Empowerment Project.

I came to queer theory and deconstruction at the same time and experienced them in much the same way. In both I found that the binaries which defined reality were faulty delineations. I found that the messiness with which I experienced life wasn’t a defect of my own, but my experience of reality bumping up against the arbitrary walls of those binaries.

It started with gender. Nearly every association I had with maleness was like sandpaper on a good day and like a razor wire wall on a bad day. It took moving past the binaries of male/female, man/woman, masculine/feminine to get to a point where something in gender made sense. No longer was there this class and that class. There was a mass of relationships, like a tag cloud, through which I could move. Ultimately it was my identification as genderfucking and genderqueer that led to my finding anything comfortable in gender. It went from being a constraint to being a plaything, a medium in which to create myself. Queer theory was my entrance into moving past either/or into and.

And.

How could I not fall deeply into the and? When I named it, and echoed through my being. I suddenly saw it everywhere. It was at the core of my (polyamorous) sexuality. It was at the core of my spirituality. Since before I can remember I sang the praises of the God-and-Human who was life-in-death. As Patrick Cheng said, “I believe that Christianity is, at its very core, queer, and the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is a deconstruction of basic binaries… That’s why for some folks, Christianity is so hard to wrap their heads around, precisely because it blurs so many boundaries.” I had been steeped in blurred boundaries my entire life, but never saw them. Indeed, the same forces that steeped me in them worked hard to deny that the blurring ever existed. They were hidden behind strict rules of behavior which clearly defined those within the boundaries and those outside, but once I saw in the center of my faith the explosion of the Creator/creation duality I could feel the very queerness of Christianity. In Christ was Creator-as-creation and God-as-human and life-in-death. The boundaries didn’t look blurred to me. They were exploded! I was no longer a soul living in a body. I was a nephesh, a life. Just as moving beyond man/woman brought me closer to my own experience, moving beyond Creator/creation and beyond soul/body brought me closer to my self and my God. It’s here that Queer Theologies have affected me most deeply. More than understanding gender, more than celebrating sexualities, more than understanding sexual ethics is the understanding that And takes precedence over Or.

In that last paragraph I counted more than twenty mentions of myself. How could I not mention myself so often in such a writing? But as long as I’m immersing myself in exploding binaries, why should I stop short of me/you? How far down this queer journey can I take those distinct categories?

Who am I?

In On Religion John Caputo discusses Augustine asking that question as well.

In your eyes, O Lord, he says, “I have become a question to myself.” So these two questions, the question of God and the question of the self, go hand in hand for Augustine. So much God, so much self: the more I am inwardly tossed about by what I love, the more I am tossed about by the question of who I am, in virtue of which this sense of being a “self ” is stirred up and intensified. That is why I think that I am being very Augustinian when I say: we do not know who we are – that is who we are. I do not question the self, but I treat the self as a question.… Who am I?, I ask with Augustine, and the answer is, I am a question unto myself. Who am I? The answer that comes back is another question; the answer is to keep questioning, to keep the question alive.

Even the boundaries that define the self dissolve into the question “What is the self?” The question is the important part, not the answer. The answered self is limited, defined and in opposition to the other. The true self is the self that cannot be answered nor defined. It is in relationship with the other, not in opposition to it. As David Dark says,

[T]he idea that any of us can have meaning alone or be the authors of our own significance or have joy for which we only have ourselves to thank is a death-dealing delusion… that implies that a strong, successful few of us might somehow gain our lives without losing them… I am because we are. Whatever self I can be said to have is the gift of self I receive from my relation to others.

I went down the queer rabbit hole when I questioned man/woman and I found my questioning not answered, but echoed by my God. I followed the question so far that I have become something that is not but is. There is no me that is not in relationship with you. I am only inasmuch as others are. I do not exist independently, but interdependently. I am undefinable as I only exist in relationship with you. My boundaries do not end where yours begin. My self is changed by its contact with you. I am made new, and once again I must ask “Who am I?”

I do not question the self, but I treat the self as a question… Who am I? The answer that comes back is another question; the answer is to keep questioning, to keep the question alive.

And that is the great gift of queerness and queer theology to me. I open myself to being changed by you, by your reality. I let down the patrol of the boundaries that keep me in and keep you out, not codependence, but interdependence. The queerness of Christ leaves me open to you, to us, to acting as Christ’s body, to a life in which our differences and our particularities are recognized, but not used as reductionist definitions of us. The queerness of Christ situates me in a world in which, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female.”

Santuary Collective Empowerment Project.

Here are the list of other participants in the synchroblog so far:

Shay writes Queer Theology Synchroblog home.

Brian writes “Why Queer Liberation Must Be Queer Led”

Cindi writes Queer Theology From a Reluctantly Queer Theologian

Gabe writes The Queerness of Christ: And over Or

Christians for Justice Action write “Imagine the Possibilities Four Years From Now”.

Darrel writes “Queer Theology: Outside the Box” at the Blog of the Grateful Bear.

Ken writes Queer Theology.

Peterson writes Lazarus Come Out!

Mike writes Queer Theology Synchroblog #SCEP.

Cindy writes Creative Differences in the Image of God (this link opens a PDF)

Jules writes Being Queerly Forward

Vince writes Loving Promiscuously: A Queer Theology of Doing It

Alison writes Why I’m Queer Too

Sonnie writes God Made Me Queer

Ellen writes Through A Glass Queerly

Steve writes In Solidarity

The Wilds

CHAOS NEVER DIED. Primordial uncarved block, sole worshipful monster, inert & spontaneous, more ultraviolet than any mythology (like the shadows before Babylon), the original undifferentiated oneness-of-being still radiates serene as the black pennants of Assassins, random & perpetually intoxicated.T.A.Z. by Hakim Bey

I’ve been slowly, slowly working my way through Catherine Keller’s The Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming. Keller takes on the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, the belief that God created the world from nothing. Working from Genesis 1:1-2 she explores tohu va bohu, formlessness, and tehom, the deep.

When in the beginning Elohim created heaven and earth, the earth was tohu va bohu, darkness was upon the face of tehom, and the ruach elohim vibrating upon the face of the waters…

In Genesis 1, there was something out of which God created. There was a formless void, a deep, and God moved over it. God called out, and from the tehom things arose.

God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

God didn’t create from nothing. God called creation from wildness. God didn’t tame the deep, God spoke to her. God called creation from the tehom and called it good, just as God called Abraham out of Abram, and called a great leader from the stuttering fugitive Moses. Creation is an act of transformation, of call and response. The tehom, like Moses and Abraham, responds to God’s call. The ruach elohim gives life to the deep as it did to Adam.

“The original undifferentiated oneness-of-being still radiates.” Its disappearance in the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo leads to fear of the void, the wild. The drive to control the uncontrolled and tame the untamed has driven Western civilization so that we cannot even call out to creation as God called out to the deep. We have to control it, divide it, systematize it. We have to find everything that reminds us of the tehom from which we came and force its chaos into pattern.

But God calls from the wild. God calls the younger son over the elder, the shepherd boy to succeed the king. God calls the homeless peasant in an occupied land to institute his Kingdom against an Empire, a Kingdom that shies away from control and dominion, and instead sees the lowly as great. A Kingdom that inverts and subverts everything we know about control.

God calls into the deep and toward the deep. God moves in the wild.

At Pentecost we again see the ruach elohim.

And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.

Experienced as a “violent wind” and “tongues, as of fire,” God’s own wildness in the Holy Spirit moved among the apostles as it had on the face of the deep. The Holy Spirit, the ruach elohim, calls into and toward wildness because the wildness reflects and responds to God. The Spirit herself is Wild!

Where the Apostles experienced the Holy Spirit as a violent wind and fire, some early Celtic Christians experienced her as a wild goose. Why?

Wild geese are, well, wild. That is, untamed, uncontrolled. They make a lot of noise, and have a habit of biting those who try to contain or capture them. That has been the Christian experience of the Holy Spirit through two thousand years. Time and again when theology and God have appeared to be firmly in the control of hierarchies and religious establishment, the Spirit of God has broken free – and has often bitten those who tried to prevent it happening.
source

Or perhaps,

[W]ild geese aren’t controllable. You can’t restrain a wild goose and bend it to your will. They’re raucous and loud. Unlike the sweet and calming cooing of a dove, a goose’s honk is strong, challenging, strident and unnerving – and just a bit scary.
In much the same way the Spirit of God can be, demanding and unsettling. Think about the story of Pentecost, and the impression the disciples made on the crowd. People thought they were drunk and disorderly!Its one thing for a gentle dove to descend peacefully on Jesus – it’s something all together different when the Spirit descends like a wild, noisy goose!
source

To follow the calling of the Spirit is to risk venturing into the wild, to live outside of one’s own control. It is seeing the sacredness of the untamed.

It was this that I had in mind today when I read Wendell Berry‘s echoing of Matthew 6:25-34, “The Peace of Wild Places” this morning.

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

There is grace in the wild, if we can only let go enough to experience it. I pray that in experiencing that wild grace we each hear our own call.