core values 1

I just (this week) joined Easum-Bandy and Associates (EBA) and began exploring some of their resources. As a result of some things I read by Bill Easum I have been challenged to "take the lead" and develop a list of core values for my congregation. Easum believes this is not something that commmittees should do. He sees it as the role of pastoral leadership. I have issues with this, but I don't entirely disagree with him, to be honest.

Now, I know that precious few people actually read this blog (it would help if I kept it up to date!), but I know that those of you who do read it are thoughtful, faithful people with important opinions. And I value your opinions. So, what I would like to do is, little by little publish a work in progress on the core values I see at work in our congregation here, for your review and comments. Feel free to challenge me, give me your guidance, argue if you like (though I don't think there will be that much to argue about, frankly).

We value a growing understanding of what it means to be citizens of the kingdom of God… For the overwhelming majority of my life as a follower of Jesus (now approaching 30 years) I have understood Jesus’ language of “the kingdom of God (or “heaven”)” as a way of talking about one of two things, sometimes both. On the one hand, many of us hear in the metaphor of “kingdom” references to the after life (heaven, everlasting life, the resurrection). This is the place we will go when we die, we are told, or, alternatively, this is what will become reality when Jesus returns.

The second way of understanding the kingdom metaphor is internal; it is what happens in the internal life of the follower of Jesus. When we heard Jesus say, “the kingdom of God is within you” we heard him making a theological statement about the transformation that happens within individuals when we “receive” Christ.

I have come to believe that while both of these are true, neither of them is complete. Nor is the combination of the two. I have come to believe and come to sense that others in our midst believe, that there is something of the Kingdom of God that is now and ongoing and growing. When Jesus says, “the kingdom of God is within you” it might better be translated, “the kingdom of God is among you (or in your midst).” This translation radically alters the previous two understandings of the kingdom metaphor. Now the Kingdom of God is something here and now, not just off in the future somewhere; now the Kingdom of God is eternal and efficacious in the world in which we live, not only in our hearts and minds; now the Kingdom of God is communal, not just individual.

In my own spiritual development this understanding of the Kingdom of God is internal to every follower of Jesus, external wherever the will and dreams of God are becoming a reality, present in our lives and churches now, future in the sense that it will be fully realized later, even as it is present and growing now. The Kingdom of God is also communal in that is intended to be brought about and revealed in the context of the community of faith -- the Church Universal and Local.

NT Wright and others have talked about the Kingdom as present with us in the Celtic understanding of “thin places”. “Thin places” are geographical places where we can sense that the curtain between earth and heaven, between what is and the Kingdom of God, is very thin and wispy. You can almost see and taste and feel God’s presence in such places. The goal of God’s plan in such an understanding is that the two come together, that the Kingdom transform our physical world and relationships, that the thin curtain that divides the two be pulled back so that God’s Kingdom may flood in, cleansing and renewing all that is on this side of that curtain, thin and wispy though that curtain may be. Where the world is busy becoming “a better place,” then, the Kingdom of God is busy coming into existence in new and powerful ways. And, while this will not happen to the fullest degree this side of Christ’s return, we believe that it will one day be a reality. The fact that the fully formed Kingdom of God is our future reality sheds light on how we are to live and behave in the present; it transforms who we are now, as individuals and communities on a pilgrimage. As we journey toward our destination, we become more and more the people and the community God desires.

This understanding of the goal of God’s work is perhaps no better described than in the closing lines of the old hymn, This Is My Father’s World (italics mine):
This is Father’s world,
Oh, let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the Ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world;
The battle is not done;
Jesus who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and heaven be one.


At 12:22 PM, Blogger Luke said...

I think this is excellent - but then, you know that my understanding has been evolving along similar lines.

I would only add that in your discussion, there is a sense that completeness is the goal, and completeness - in the sense of kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven, to quote someone - won't happen until He comes again. With which I agree, but... it is not necessary for the kingdom of heaven to be complete to be of value. It is better to live in and for the faintest of echos of kindom than to live without it. Imperfect, fractured, and even poorly executed attempts at true community have value, and great value. The value increases as our understanding increases, and as we daily live out and from and for the kingdom.

I think people get frustrated and give up, or lose committment, or get comfortable with where they are, because they compare where they are to the goal, and are overwhelmed. But even in "thick places" (like my skull) and even where the curtain is blackout-heavy, transformation is possible and necessary. And every place that the curtain gets thinner is huge. Thin places, if I understand correctly, tend to be places where generations have sought the presence of God. Which had to start with someone praying in a thick place... and the results may not be evident for a long, long time.

It isn't just the goal. It isn't just the journey. Like the understanding that the kingdom of God includes both the internal and communal, it is a balance of valuing both.

OK, I'm rambling. Sorry.

At 4:44 PM, Blogger stacey said...

Luke, I couldn't agree more. While I wouldn't say that the journey IS the destination, as some do, I WOULD say that the destinatin is IN the journey, as a flower is in the seed, maybe (?). Thanks.


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