April 15, 2008
Book Review: Jesus for President (Part 3)
Stories from within the alternative kingdom.
Let's make a couple of assumptions about a church leader who reads Jesus for President. First, he or she actually finishes the book despite the occasional punch in the gut. Second, that this same church leader agrees (on some level) with the premise that too much of our American church life has been shaped by our comfortable relationship with the state. If one accept both of these assumptions, what then?
While the book offers plenty of fodder for thought and conversation, it is not a how-to manual of subversive Kingdom living. Since most of us will not be leaving our churches to join a New Monastic community with Claiborne or Haw, what is our response? How do we serve and lead congregations that preserve Kingdom distinctiveness while demonstrating God's redemption to our neighbors?
One way to answer these questions is found in how Claiborne and Haw compose their book's last chapter: story telling. The authors claim, "Preserving the distinctiveness of the kingdom of God has always been the most important task for the church." And, "The only thing all Christians are called by the New Testament to imitate is Jesus' taking up his cross." Rather than tell us exactly how to do this, they've decided to show us in the final portion of the book.
They tell stories about missional robotics engineers, dumpster diving, making stuff "from the scraps of the empire," Amish forgiveness, defending the homeless, and alternative economics. The stories range from a peacekeeping trip to Iraq on the eve of the US invasion, to a young couple who adopted an old woman with Alzheimer's from the projects of Omaha.
There are stories that will startle the reader with their creativity. There are others, especially for church leaders, which will feel more like a rebuke. For example, the authors use Relational Tithe as an example of an organization that practices alternative economics. They write,
Church father Ignatius said that if our church is not marked by caring for the poor, the oppressed, and the hungry, then we are guilty of heresy- and a new reformation is long overdue. Some of us who were pretty discontent with how the church was embezzling money belonging to the poor to build buildings and pay staff began to dream again what it would look like to reimagine tithes and offerings, which God intended to be instruments of a redistributive economy? and we came up with the something beautiful and small- the relational tithe.
How do we serve and lead congregations that preserve Kingdom distinctiveness while demonstrating God's redemption to our neighbors? - that was the question I had as I approached the end of Jesus for President. Without directly answering that question perhaps Claiborne and Haw have answered the question. Maybe it's about sharing stories.
In each of our churches there are astonishing stories that happen every week. People caring for each other, sacrificing for each other, taking risks for the Kingdom. But if your church is like mine, you probably do not talk about these stories very often. Whether we wish to avoid pride or simply don't have enough time during our services, the result is many untold (yet inspiring) stories. Stories about people who are living as citizens of an alternative Kingdom. And while it may seem a tame response to a radical book, perhaps our first step is to become better storytellers.
The stories we tell shape us. What stories are being told in your church? Are they stories about power and influence that unwittingly celebrate the values of empire? Or, are you sharing the stories of ordinary people living out the extraordinary values of an alternative kingdom?