What if everything that you knew and loved, cherished and adored, was a toxin–a poison designed to keep you unhappy? I’m not talking about loved ones or pets or the basic necessities in life, but your culture, your country, your way of life that is sacorsanct. Perhaps even your religion–yes, even the religion you have that you don’t even know you have because you think that religion only takes place in a church.
What if Jesus himself has been looking askance at most of the traditions of Christianity for nearly two thousand years–or, the moment Constantine embraced Christianity as the official religion of Rome?
If you are reading this, you hold at least some minor position of power on this earth. Someone else on this earth is going without so you can go with. You want to keep that position of power, so that you can continue to have whatever it is you think you need to have.
Let’s start here. Governments do what they do for human beings who seek to obtain all that they need in this life. Their purpose runs counter to Jesus’ mission. Some forms of government may be more beneficial to Christians than others, but a Christian government cannot exist in proper form until Jesus returns to rule the world. The Christians who seek to continue to interfere with the government, whether they are Egelicals in pursuit of a government that teaches creation, does away with abortion, and puts prayer back in schools, or if they are liberal Christians who seek a government that provides more social services for the poor–either approach is misguided and runs counter to what Jesus was talking about.
Frankly, we Christians have had it too good for too long with a government that generally supports our beliefs and not other peoples’ beliefs, and we have grown fat, soft and lazy about what it really means to suffer for Christ. Christians in Iraq and Syria have suffered for Christ in the past few years, we have not. There are two problems with our misguided notion that our government should be Christian–one, our government retains its legitimacy via a military and police apparatus that represses any would-be challengers to its authority. This apparatus uses force that is mostly evil. It is not “self defense” as some would contend, or a defending of freedoms, but merely a prettily rationalized system where we rarely have to see the messy business of kids getting bombed and people of color being harrassed–at least until very recently.
As Christians, we don’t have to leave, but we don’t have to encourage the legitimacy of the state other than “giving to Ceaser’s what is Ceasar’s.” Yes, we pay our taxes, but no, we do not continue to try to influence and change the government, and no, we don’t sign our kids up to go kill people. We don’t have to leave because we are legitimately here as much as anyone. We were born here. All nation states at the end of the day are artificial, manmade constructs. They will come and go.
Of course, we will not do anything so radical, because we want our kids to grow up well adjusted and go to nice schools and take decent jobs, raise decent families and so forth. But, we should be clear in our acceptance of the deal we are making, that we are in fact dealing some with the devil so we don’t have to suffer too much for Christ. Further, we should probably start to accept that we should be classified more correctly as fans, not disciples of Christ. We are not the team getting dirty and taking hits, we are just its biggest fans, cheering them on. There may be a place for us, but can we call ourselves Christians, or should we call ourselves something else?
This line of thinking is probably absurd to most people. Christians in the U.S. have been living fat, easy, soft lives for decades now, and we tend to legitimize our lifestyles by cherry-picking some verses that say we are meant to have these blessings in this life. The life that Jesus talked about us living and the lives we live are so utterly different, that it is too easy to dismiss Jesus’ words as hyperbole, out-of-context, or appropriate for another place and time.
Monasteries and new intentional communities may hit the nail on the head a bit more closely, but they are often too cloistered and inwardly-focused to actually resemble the type of Christian communities Jesus seemed to have in mind.
It would seem utterly odd to an individual coming from another time and place altogether to witness what is supposed to be the apex of people living Jesus’ teaching, or the culmination of fervor for Jesus–and it’s an entire nation filled with people who constantly consume and pollute to inordinate excess, and routinely blame the poor, needy–the “least of these”–as being those who are simply lazy or not trying hard enough or following the rules correctly. These same people worship and adore guns, and are constantly going out and waging wars and military interventions and proxy wars on the rest of the planet–in the name of exporting our superior way of life to others…
Naturally, there are many of us Americans who have more or less rejected Christianity–either outright, or we treat it like joining the Kiwanis or Masons–another local club to network and push our services and products into. It is easy enough for them to hardly bat an eye when they fill their lives and homes with material pursuits and turn their backs on the needy.
The first thing to understand, if you are going to want to change things, is that you will have to radically change yourself. If you aren’t willing to live out an alternative sort of lifestyle, in an intentional community that is striving to be less possessive and acquisitive and pollute the shit out of the earth, then you can’t possibly tell others what they are doing is wrong. The next thing to understand, is that the language surrounding how the present American way of life is legitimized is so ingrained in people– in yourself–that you will have to read and think outside of this paradigm at length if you want to be prepared to respond to the usual “if you don’t like it, why don’t leave,” and myriad of other rationalizations for why the grossest of American consumer culture and gun gulture is precisely what Jesus had in mind for a way of being for Christians.
What are some of the obvious ways that we are doing things wrong?
Buying stuff made by people who are practically slaves.
Buying food that heavily taxes the resources of the planet.
Having a sense of ownership over things — this isn’t a call to socialism, top-down imposed communal property never works–this has to be a conscious decision made by each person to change.
Needing certain things just to stay “normal.” Every home doesn’t need a washer/dryer–these could be communally shared and maintenanced. Green yards are a huge waste of resources–money spent maintaining them in most parts of the country could be used to grow food.
Being involved in politics–we do this primarily because we want to keep the power we think we have and need, but secondarily, we are scared out of our minds at the prospect of being a persecuted religious minority. Neither Jesus nor Paul lifted a finger to change Rome–this happened at the grassroots level at first.
Placing such primacy of the nation-state among other things at the top of what we love along with God–sometimes even above God. Heaven will NOT look like the United States, it will look like Heaven and it will have people in it who are very un-American, but very Christian.
The change has to begin with you, then your family, and then a like-minded, intentional community and then perhaps there will be broader ripples out into the larger Christian body politic. But, if you can’t go a week without needing to go to the restaurant and drink and go to the Starbuck’s and get prepared junk food at the grocery store and fast food places. If you can’t start shopping at the second-hand stores and getting more involved with local producers of food and clothing for these needs, then you will remain addicted to the mainstream toxic reality that is all encompassing and wants very badly to see you be a mainstream pastor who generally supports a good American war and happily slaps local scions of business and industry on the back to get a little money for the church.
In other words–if you can’t change yourself, you will never be able to expect anyone to follow you. You can start small, but you have to remain intentional, or you will get nowhere.