Monday, November 28, 2011

Sandpaper in Hand

So imagine with me:

You've been freed up by a grant to spend three days a week exclusively working to testify to Jesus' good news about God's kingdom. What would you do?

I really like the image of reality wearing through the map (if this metaphor's unfamiliar to you, sit down with some friends and watch The Matrix or, better, read Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation). Where does the kingdom wear through in your context? Where might it? And would you best invest your time if you had three days a week to work on widening the hole?

I've been working for the last few years (off and on, more off than on) to refinish a cheap electric guitar I bought when I played in a high school garage band. Armed with sandpaper, I sit out on the fire escape or on the front steps slowly removing a garish blue finish to reveal the wood grain beneath it, the canvas for beautiful things to come. That's the work before us.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Road to Missional and Working Retail

I'm taking in Mike Frost's new The Road to Missional in preparation for a forthcoming review in Englewood Review of Books. I'll post an update here once it's published.

This is a great and provocative book, definitely the best-presented outline of Christianity as participation in the missio Dei or missio Christi that I've ever picked up. It definitely has me thinking.

First, The Road to Missional has me contemplating a new way of describing Jesus' announcement of God's kingdom. Frost, drawing on David Bosch if I remember right (an author I need to read more), talks about Jesus announcing God's kingdom present in the world, overlapping with it. God's kingdom is here, realized, but not in a way we yet recognize. Or, as Frost says, the world as God desires it and the world as we know it don't "overlap completely." One-to-one correspondence waits for Jesus' return.

Second, then, I'm meditating on the ways in which the kingdom shows through (reality wears through the map) in this mountain valley I call home for now. Frost describes a believer in Cambodia who demonstrates the advent of the kingdom in a displaced persons camp. He dug trenches to drain the land to reduce mosquitoes bearing infectious disease. He found a truck to transport laborers into the city to find work. What does that look like in a part-time tourist town, a city of ski bum college kids, where obsolete ranchhands and cowboys spend up the hours playing video poker, where heroin addicts come to clean up.

Third, and most insistently, I'm back to the question of what God's kingdom and our mission to alert the world to its presence means for people working retail. Retail, especially in a large chain, is not a context that welcomes relationship. Justice does not roll down (even when we're dropping prices). There's no shalom in shopping. Yet I'm there. A lot of people who follow Jesus are there, for our eight hours, five or more days a week. What does faithful witness, faithful testimony look like there? Can God's kingdom wear through behind the checkstand counter?

I'm excited to read the last chapter of The Road to Missional. This is a book that brings me hope.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Soft at the Edges

I deeply desire to be able to name myself categorically as follow Jesus. That’s half the appeal of participating in a monastic, activist, or non-profit social justice community. If I’m honest, that’s half the appeal of leading a church.
How do we know we follow Jesus? How do we sort out in our day-to-day, nine-to-five lives if we are somehow participating in messianic mission? 
Love can take many forms. Redemption may often blend into the background.
A younger version of myself would identify witness as unapologetic apologetics and exploiting every opportunity to confront people with the gospel. But I believe this way of witnessing turns primarily on a theoretical/intellectual mode of understanding “gospel”--a way foreign to Jesus’ own proclamation.
Example: I work in a pharmacy for a day job. In between filling prescriptions and cashing out customers, a coworker mentions that she plans to come again to church, the same church I go to, incidentally. A fellow Christian who also works there immediately takes this opportunity to interrogate the rest of our fellow employees about their church attendance habits. They become defensive, explaining that they go occasionally, when they can, whey they’re not too tired, etc.
My younger self would have joined in the interrogation, hoping for a chance to score an invitation to join me on Sunday morning. But I’m not entirely sure that this is an incredibly faithful way to imagine witness.
I don’t think Jesus pressured people into attending weekly synagogue all too often.
But if this isn’t what witness looks like outside the monastery or the rescue mission, what might it look like?
Jesus meets people where they’re at. The woman at the well, Nicodemus, the wedding at Cana, John’s disciples at the Jordan. He goest to them, asks them questions, hears their stories, and then shares his life--the same life I want to share. It’s a patient process.
Will there ever be confrontation? Perhaps; probably, even. But like the Samaritan woman, confrontation with the truth of the Jesus story comes only after stories and needs have been heard, only after we really know one another.
But this is far from a clean-cut business. It seems difficulty to define. Are we living as witness? Or are we simply living as nice people? Where is Jesus in our friendships? Where is Jesus back in the pharmacy? It’s hard to say.
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