The Divine Conspiracy: Chapter 3 What Jesus Knew: Our God-bathed World (pp. 88-91)
The Great Inversion
The Widow’s Offering
Luke 21 As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury.2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins.3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others.4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
"This story calls to our attention The Great Inversion that lies at the heart of the good news of Jesus and his people. The scene at the offering box in the temple is an illustration. What turns up so graphically in that case is actually a general structure that permeates the message of the Bible as a whole and the reality portrayed therein."
"This structure indicates that humanity if routinely flying upside down, and at the same time it provides a message of hope for everyone who counts on God's order, no matter his or her circumstance."
"Again, the children of Israel were the most deprived segment of Egyptian society. Yet they 'triumphed over the horse and the rider in the midst of the sea.' The barren, the widow, the orphan, the eunuch, the alien, all models of human hopelessness are fruitful and secure in God's care. They are repeatedly invoked in Old Testament writings as testimony to the great inversion between our way and God's way."
"To see everything from the perspective of 'the heavens opened' is to see all things as they are before God. The Kingdom Among Us is simply God himself and the spiritual realm of beings over which his will perfectly presides- 'as it is in the heavens.'"
"The kingdom is to be sharply contrasted with the kingdom of man: the realm of human life, that tiny part of visible reality where the human will for a time has some degree of sway, even contrary to God's will. 'The heavens are the heavens of the Lord,' the psalmist said, 'but the earth He has given to he sons of men.' (Psalm 115:16) And as things now stand we must sigh, 'Alas for the earth!'"
"To become a disciple of Jesus is to accept now that inversion of human distinctions that will sooner or later be forced upon everyone by the irresistible reality of his kingdom. How must we think of him to see the inversion from our present viewpoint? We must, simply, accept that he is the best and smartest man who ever lived in the world, that he is even now 'the prince of the kings of the earth' (Rev.1:5) Then we heartily join his cosmic conspiracy to overcome evil with good."
The Divine Conspiracy: Chapter 3 What Jesus Knew: Our God-bathed World (pp. 84-88)
on life and death "Jesus made a special point of saying that those who rely on him and have received the kind of life that flows in him and in God will never experience death. Such persons, he said, will never see death, never taste death. On another occasion he says simply that 'everyone living and believing in me shall never die.' (John 11:26)" "So as we think of our life and make plans for it, we should not be anticipating going through some terrible event called 'death,'to be avoided at all costs even though it can't be avoided. That is the usual attitude for human beings, no doubt. But, immersed in Christ in action, we may be sure that our life- yes, that familiar one we are each so well acquainted with- will never stop. We should be anticipating what we will be doing three hundred or a thousand or ten thousand years from now in this marvelous universe." "Could this be the actual truth about our case? Jesus' word to us would certainly be, 'Believe it!'. We are never-ceasing spiritual beings with an eternal destiny in the full world of God."
I'm sharing this letter today for reflection and conversation within the circles of those whom I serve alongside. Believing also that Merton has something vitally important to say to us old activists as well...
Thomas Merton: A letter to a Young Activist
“Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there too a great deal has to be gone through as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.
The big results are not in your hands or mine, but they suddenly happen, and we can share in them; but there is no point in building our lives on this personal satisfaction, which may be denied us and which after all is not that important.
The next step in the process is for you to see that your own thinking about what you are doing is crucially important. You are probably striving to build yourself an identity in your work, out of your work and your witness. You are using it, so to speak, to protect yourself against nothingness, annihilation. That is not the right use of your work. All the good that you will do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God’s love. Think of this more and gradually you will be free from the need to prove yourself, and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without your knowing it.
The great thing after all is to live, not to pour out your life in the service of a myth: and we turn the best things into myths. If you can get free from the domination of causes and just serve Christ’s truth, you will be able to do more and will be less crushed by the inevitable disappointments. Because I see nothing whatever in sight but much disappointment, frustration and confusion.
The real hope, then, is not in something we think we can do but in God who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see. If we can do God’s will, we will be helping in this process. But we will not necessarily know all about it before hand”.
Enough of this…it is at least a gesture…I will keep you in my prayers.
In his books Toxic Charity, Charity Detox, and Compassion, Justice, and the Christian Life, Bob Lupton challenges our paradigms of compassion and helping that are well intended but often unknowingly are paternalistic. If you're interested in continuing to learn from the wisdom and experience of Lupton, you can sign up to get FCS newsletters here. From this month's newsletter focusing on parity rather than charity:
"But what if we really wanted to forge genuine, trusting relationships? What if we wanted to engage as peers rather than patrons? Perhaps we would seek out activities providing a level playing field, like a soccer (or chess!) tournament. Or indigenous students teaching us conversational Spanish as we teach them English. Or employing experts in local culture and history – perspectives unlikely to appear in tourist brochures and guide books. Or having village elders impart wisdom borne of scarcity – faith journeys about which Western Christians know very little.
Parity eliminates pity. If we seek out talents and abilities rather than deficits and needs, we might encounter spiritual wealth that largely eludes the materially wealthy American missioner."
I was in Chicago last week with CCDA Cohort 6. We spent part of our 4 days together listening to friends in Chicago share about their passions, the ministry work in which they're involved, and talk about a theology of reconciliation. One of our stops was at Grace and Peace Church where we listened to Pastor Sandra Van Opstal talk with us about their church and a worship that expresses hospitality, mutuality, and solidarity. Here are a few notes I took:
Sandra shared a bit about her journey and the life of faith community of GAP. The space is used for worship but also has many community programs and activities happening. Sandra calls it “A community center that meets in worship on Sundays.”
Sandra spoke about creating worship to help us consider the global picture. A diverse worship so we get a fuller picture of God’s Kingdom. We need to know each other, each other’s stories, and to stand in solidarity. Diverse worship is critical so that we better learn who God is and learn to stand in unity.
Worship should be expressive AND transformative.
A good tour guide helps shape a tourist’s trip around their interests…(ie: someone coming to Chicago might say they’d like to try deep dish pizza in Chicago). A great tour guide will take you where you NEED to go to better experience the city. (ie: take tourist to eat a jibarito sandwich..fried plantain sandwich.) This is true in leading and guiding worship as well.
Practice hospitality in worship. We welcome you. There’s something in our worship that welcomes the other. Who is on stage? Does it represent the community? What style of music and songs do you have?
Practice solidarity in worship. What do small groups and worshiping congregations do when a Ferguson happens or when Syrian refugees are in the headlines? Tell the stories of the global Church. Scripture, songs, prayer, preaching, teaching, worship….we can use these to shape and craft a people who think globally and are anchored in history and as persons who recognize they are connected to the rest of the world.
Practice mutuality in worship. Challenge how we tend to read Scripture through our context.
MLK quote: “In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be...This is the inter-related structure of reality.”
The Divine Conspiracy: Chapter 3 What Jesus Knew: Our God-bathed World (pp. 79-84)
The Spiritual... Dallas Willard's words in this section help me to remember that I do not need to grow hopeless or afraid in the world. " 'Spiritual' is not just something we ought to be. It is something we are and cannot escape, regardless of how we may think or feel about it. It is our nature and our destiny." "We always place a tremendous premium on what comes from the center of our being, the heart. It, more than anything else, is what we are." "The heart, or will, simply is spirit in human beings. It is the human spirit, and the only thing in us that God will accept as the basis of our relationship to him. It is the spiritual plane of our natural existence, the place of truth before God, from where alone our whole lives can become eternal." "We ought to be spiritual in every aspect of our lives because our world is the spiritual one. It is what we are suited to. Thus Paul, from his profound grasp of human existence, counsels us, 'To fill your mind with the visible, the 'flesh', is death, but to fill your mind with the spirit is life and peace.'" Romans 8:6 "As we increasingly integrate our life into the spiritual world of God, our life increasingly takes on the substance of the eternal. We are destined for a time when our life will be entirely sustained from spiritual realities and no longer dependent in any way upon the physical. Our dying, or 'mortal' condition, will have been exchanged for an undying one and death absorbed in victory.' " "Of course that destiny flatly contradicts the usual human outlook, or what 'everyone knows' to be the case. I take this to be a considerable point in its favor. Our 'lives of quiet desperation', in the familiar words of Thoreau, are imposed by hopelessness. We find our world to be one where we hardly count at all, where what we do makes little difference, and where what we really love is unattainable, or certainly not secure. We become frantic or despairing." "In A Confession, Leo Tolstoy relates how the drive toward goodness that moved him as a boy was erased by his experiences in society. Later in life, after overwhelming success as a writer, he nevertheless sank into psychological paralysis brought on by his vision of the futility of everything. The awareness that the passage of time alone would bring everything he loved and valued to nothing left him completely hopeless. For years he lived in this condition, until he finally came to faith in a world of God where all that is good is preserved. " "That is precisely the world of the spiritual that Jesus opened to humanity long ago and still opens to those who seek it. Observing the faith of simple peasants and the deeply meaningful (though painful) lives that flowed from it, Tolstoy was led onward to Jesus and his message of the kingdom of God. That message then showed him the way to the spiritual world and the 'mind of the spirit,' which, as Paul also said, is 'life and peace.' The mind or the minding of the spirit is life and peace precisely because it locates us in a world adequate to our nature as ceaselessly creative beings under God. The 'mind of the flesh,' on the other hand, is a living death. To it the heavens are closed. It sees only 'that inverted Bowl they call the Sky, Whereunder crawling cooped we live and die.' It restricts us to the visible, physical world where what our hearts demand can never be. There, as Tolstoy saw with disgust, we find we constantly must violate our conscience in order to 'survive'. Jesus, by contrast, brings us into a world without fear. In his world, astonishingly, there is nothing evil we must do in order to thrive. He lived, and invites us to live, in an undying world where it is safe to do and be good..."