My friend Kevin Beck, co-creative at eschatological thinktank/activist cell Presence International, has written a thought-provoking piece for the new year. I encourage you to read it in its entirety and comment below. With any luck, Mr. Beck himself will join us.
Happy New Year, and welcome to a perfect 2008!
Perfect? How can anything be perfect?
There is disease, sadness, and poverty. Political upheaval in Pakistan and Kenya threaten what little global stability there is. Maybe only a fool would try to suggest things are perfect. Just look out the window. At best we can only hope things might become perfect sometime down the line – and only if God miraculously intervenes and destroys a lot of people and establishes a top-down enlightened dictatorship forcing everyone into compliance with his wishes.
At least, that’s the story seeping out of popular religious and political circles. Just this past week, one well-known televangelist released the contents of his annual “message from God.” According to him, God has several disasters in store for us. How shocking! Not all religious voices make such exact predictions, and certainly not all agree on the specific solutions. One anticipates all “true believers” to be levitated off the planet, leaving all others behind to suffer intolerable disasters due to their hardened unbelief. A more “scholarly” approach dismisses rapturism, opting instead for God remake the space-time universe, thereby undoing all manner of distress.
While these schools of thought are separated in the way they see the “solution,” they understand the “problem” exactly the same. According to that version of the story, humanity is corrupt to the core. We supposedly fell from a state of perfection, and we now wander in the wasteland of flaws, defects, and deficiencies. As wretchedly sinful creatures filled with rebellion against God and disdain for all things holy, we can only hope to escape this miserable existence.In this way of thinking, we end up living on a treadmill of what we sadly call hope. We hope for the God to make renovations to or destruction of the planet – as if that will “fix all of our problems.” I’ve always wondered: if humanity could mess up an ideal world in the first place, what would keep us from doing the same after God remade things? Meanwhile as the song says, we keep on waitin’, waitin’ on the world to change. Paradoxically, our “theology of hope” leaves the majority of humanity desperate, left on the outside, without God, and without hope in the world.
Perhaps, we’ve misplaced our hope and abdicated our role as divine partners in creating our world. The wisdom writer noted that hope deferred makes the heart grow sick. After millennia of practicing deferred hope, religion has done a marvelous job of fostering sick hearts.
But what if there is a different way of telling the Biblical story? A fresh way of reading the Bible? A new way of understanding the work of God in the world? What if this way remained true to the scriptural witness? It didn’t gloss over, ignore, or dismiss the more disturbing sections, yet it didn’t descend into crass fundamentalism? What if this way accepted the integrity of Jesus and his initial followers who announced their expectation of the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of God in their day? What if this way of reading the Biblical story casts out all fear – not just some fear, but all of it? What if this way allowed you to see the end as just the beginning?
This is what we at Presence International are dedicated to helping people see and experience in their own lives. We call this approach Transmillennial because it cuts across the millennia, reaching back from Jesus’ day to translate his first-century message of world-transformation into meaningful life practice for our twenty-first century world.
We explore these dynamics in the 6-week Transformations course. [Note from Mike: this is an excellent course! I encourage anyone to take it] In this online class, we discuss the four quadrants of transformation: Covenantal, Personal, Organizational, and Societal. Each week takes a particular aspect of these quadrants and offers real-life instruction on understanding the process of creative transformation. The way in which Jesus envisioned and enacted covenantal transformation can change the way you live. It can revolutionize the way your family, faith community, and workplace functions. It can transfigure our society and your world.
One of the fist steps is simply becoming aware of what exactly Jesus was working toward. Jesus rejected the mainstream conformist way of his day. At the same time, he refused to get caught up in the blame game of political revolution. He found a third way, a creative path that transformed everything once for all.
Of course, it’s easy to become enamored with studying the past. We can talk forever about what Jesus did without ever comprehending its value and meaning for our lives and world. This is why we at Presence International are actively engaging people from all walks of life with this transformative message. If God transformed all things from death into life through self-emptying love, then we can begin to see that God truly has reconciled the world to himself. We can do more than criticize popular theologies that predict a catastrophic end. We can go beyond seeking political solutions for the world’s issues. Instead, we can love our neighbors as ourselves. We can love our enemies and in so doing be perfect as God is perfect.
See, while awareness is a necessary first step in transformation, it is not the last one. Awareness is followed by acceptance. Acceptance of what is. Acceptance of ourselves. Acceptance of others. Acceptance of God. Acceptance of the forgiveness that you have already been granted. Acceptance of God’s acceptance of you.
For generations, humanity has told itself that we are nothing but filthy, rotten sinners. We’ve believed that we are full of failure, weakness, and fault. We’ve been telling ourselves that we are sinners in the hands of an angry God, and that we are locked in spiritual battles with demonic forces, which – naturally – means that anyone who disagrees with “us” is in league with malevolent supernatural forces and must be dealt with decisively one way or another.
This takes us back to where we began. We’ve told ourselves that the only way out of this mess is for God to take all of the good people into heaven, destroy the earth, or magically start all over.
The Transmillennial approach offers an alternative to these doom and gloom outlooks. We at Presence believe that God has made all things new, and that we all have been given the divine gift of being able to shape our world. Again, the wisdom writer affirms that death and life are in the power of the tongue. Instead of speaking words of death as we have for so long, it is time to speak words of life. Words such as, “You are forgiven. You are loved. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. I and my Father are one. God’s mercies are new every morning. I am free. God is love. With God all things are possible.”
When we change our way of speaking and thinking, we will begin to see things anew. More than an optical illusion, all things will become new. We will forge new deep structures in our individual and collective psyches that will manifest themselves outwardly. At Presence, we call this Agapeology – loving God by loving others.
As you know, the Biblical story begins with two trees in a garden. One is the Tree of Life. The other is the Tree of the knowledge of God and Evil. As Doug King eloquently illustrates in his talks at Transmillennial 2007, the tree of the Knowledge of God and Evil is so deceptive because it promises what it can’t deliver. In the hope of knowing God by knowing what is good, that tree sows the seeds of judgment. In an amazing realization, Paul announces that he actually experienced “death through that which is good” (Romans 7:13). How astounding! Through the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Paul could not achieve what he sought.
However, Paul sees Christ delivering him and all humanity from the fruitless cycle of attempting to live according to the Knowledge of God and Evil. When we read John’s vision of the New Creation – the New Order – we find only one tree. There is simply the Tree of Life. It blossoms year round, providing healing fruit for all.
Today, we have the God-given gift of taking that fruit and eating it. But more than that, we have the blessing of planting the seeds of the fruit from the Tree of Life in our own gardens. We can tend and keep the garden that brings forth a harvest of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Gentleness, Kindness, Faith, Meekness, and Temperance.
As you plant and cultivate the seeds of the Tree of Life, you will find the fruit to heal. The more of us that plant, the more healing we will experience in our shared experience. Of course, this is a lifelong process, a spiritual practice that comes not through engaging in some esoteric rituals. Instead, it happens in the everyday relationships with ourselves and one another. Conscious, intentional, and deliberate thinking and living will bring about vibrant results – individually, locally, and globally.
This is why 2008 is perfect. It is already saturated with God’s presence, in fulfillment of his promises to create humanity in the divine likeness. Jesus does not have to physically return to earth on a cloud of water vapor to achieve that. Instead, Jesus was convinced that in recognizing God’s fellowship with us we would share his joy completely, perfectly (John 17:13).
The point of perfection, then, is not the cessation of what we normally call disasters. Even Jesus experienced loneliness, misunderstanding, hunger, sorrow, and death. Yet, through it all he remained confident that “as the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father.” More than that, he believed that we “may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us.” Today, we participate in the joy of his fulfilled confidence knowing that because he has appeared we are like him; for we see him as he is. Face to face. Right where you are, now and forever more.
Enjoy a perfect 2008!
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And so…I might as well come out and say, kicking off this new year, that I’m with Presence, and other voices of change like Shane Claiborne, Rob Bell and Brian McLaren–there are different, more hope-filled, and just as ‘biblical’ ways of mixing and framing the Christian story–ways that empower rather than sour, that give credible spiritual energies rather than fatalistic schemes. I have questions about semantics and application, but I am excited that the Spirit seems to be speaking in our midst, and leading the way forward.
What thinkest thou?