27. Christians should be taught to love our creation and common space more than their own homes.
The great theme of the Bible is God’s great reconciliation with the whole world. Not just people named Steve.
From the beginning we see a constant focus on building a community of reconciliation, justice, and love:
- God creates the world and calls it good.
- God finds a human to call and bless.
- The blessing continues throughout the generations.
- God calls Moses and liberates his people.
- Despite the wandering, God remains with them.
- God sets out a different order for their society.
- That society would be full of justice, equality, and all would be fed.
- Regular Jubilees and instructions to feed the poor would ensure everyone has a place.
- Over many centuries, God calls the people to reconnect with that original blessing.
- Jesus reintroduces that Jubilee as a kin-dom of love.
- We are taught to bring that kin-dom close through our own blessed community of love.
What we don’t see is a constant obsession with “getting mine.”
Why ditching individualism is so hard
The Great Reformation didn’t reform the individualism mutation found in western, catholic Christianity. It made it worse.
Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Reformed, Pentecostal; the central focus of the faith has rested in the individual’s sense of rightness with God. Call it salvation or just “being good,” we give our individual place in the cosmos our attention.
Are you saved? we ask. Or Have you been baptized and received into God’s holy catholic church? As if the mark of our faith is our status.
This has far more in common, it would seem, with the seeking heart of spiritualism than with the historic teaching of Christianity.
The seeker wants to know the secrets of the universe for themselves. A compulsion for understanding drives them to know like the pious young man coming to Jesus for the certainty of his heavenly inheritance.
Christianity, on the other hand, offers questions more than answers, teaching rather than certainty, and an image of common hope rather than individual protection.
Of course, the individual is there in the text.
It’s there. A big part of the pastoral epistles and the letters of Pseudo-Paul is obsessed with individual behavior. They do so for order, power, and preservation of community rather than individual enlightenment or as a pretext for punishing the people we don’t like.
It’s just not the dominant theme, nor is it there in so great a measure as to put the individual above the community.
We are stubbornly destroying the planet
I find it truly incredible that the first chapter in the first book of the first library in the Bible is a story about God creating everything and calling it good and then we have the audacity to destroy it.
We misinterpret a phrase in the creation story to justify our selfish and mindless destruction of the environment. And then we have the audacity to think God wants us to do it.
- Pump ash into our lungs and carbon into our air.
- Dump toxic pollutants into our rivers and streams and plastics into our oceans.
- Killing off most of the species on the planet and severely limiting their movement on the earth.
This creation God made, stepped back and called “very good,” we’re wrecking like a pubescent suburbanite left alone for a weekend with Mom and Dad’s liquor cabinet.
To give a great big F-U to God, we really better have a good reason.
Instead we offer economics, skepticism, and the perverse belief that God will fix our bad decisions.
Go back and read the major prophets to see what scripture has to say about this hubris. Or check out the books of Kings for a history that matches this attitude. Read of a people dead-set on rejecting God’s dream and losing track of God’s priorities for the world.
A God-like Vision
Then turn back to the gospels and see how Jesus is God’s response to this destruction and alienation from that Jubilee vision from the Pentateuch.
Jesus builds us into a people who gather and share. Our values are generosity and hope. We push our hatred on the destroyers of love and the stumbling blocks to the blessed community. We reconcile the lost and repent of our own dislocation from God.
This junk isn’t solved with the Jesus Prayer or being all I’m being a good person!
When the pious young man comes to Jesus expecting assurance and confirmation that his following the letter of the law would provide for his salvation, Jesus doesn’t give it to him. He told him he was missing something and invited him to see what it was:
Leaving the selfish stuff behind and following Jesus in blessed community.
And the man ran away crying.
This is why we’re being taught a false gospel in our churches and wider community; because we want our faith to be defined individually. And Jesus wants us to see it communally.
So we teach others to share
So we teach one another to build community rather than isolation. We teach as Jesus did (in community, relationship, “withness”). And we teach what Jesus teaches us (to build community, relationship, “withness”).
We recognize God as creating a good world for our blessing, not exploiting.
And we recognize our common space is the place in which Jesus arrives. Jesus comes to us in our gathering, not only to our secret visits to our special place. We don’t have to climb a mountain to find God. We can gather downtown at the fountain or the Corner Grind.
These spaces are holy. Our creation is holy. And our very lives are holy.
So we don’t just think they are important, we treat them like they are important. And ultimately more important than our own homes.
If we didn’t know this deep down, it wouldn’t be one of the most common themes in our movies:
- The Workaholic Dad who learns he needs to spend more time with his kids.
- The Overwhelmed Mom who learns to let go of perfect to live a better life.
- A rich white man learns from a homeless person / angel / child / magical negro that money isn’t everything.
So we get the concept. We’re too selfish. We focus on money / possessions / winning / work / whatever and forget to live life to the fullest, which always means with other people. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, who doesn’t just see his selfishness, but his isolation as the problem.
And he turns to sharing generously.
This is the turn: not just away from selfish individualism, but toward the community. Turning from worrying about ourselves and toward our common space, our common good, and our common life together.
And then we elevate our common space because we know these are God’s building blocks for the kin-dom.
[This is Thesis #27 of my 31 Theses. To read them all, visit the 31 Theses introduction page.]