EXILIC IMPETUS

On my bookshelf, I keep a little book, a study in homiletics, called Exilic Preaching.  I haven’t read it in a very long time, but the compilation includes essays by Walter Brueggemann and Barbara Brown Taylor which impact my way of thinking.  Taylor is an especially spicy preacher, and her essays call Christians to a mindset of total reliance on God where we “get real” about faith and find resources for living from another world.

Someone reading here was likely impacted by Hauerwas and Willimon’s book Resident Aliens in a similar fashion.  I expect their book was a bigger hit for sales and is more readily known.  While Shane Claiborne’s book The Irresistible Revolution is completely different in style, it also has a similar impact on many readers, I expect.  And yet, for my money, Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire by Walsh and Keesmaat did more to reframe the Bible and impact me than any other book I ever found.

Jesus, it turns out, achieves more salvation, defeats more and greater powers of darkness, and makes a bigger impact on creation once he is condemned, stripped naked, tortured, and killed by the world systems and powers – the ultimate exile, alienation, revolution, and subversion – than at any other point in his mission.  He does more with less against bigger foes from outside or underneath because that is how God is glorified in mortals.

The things I am pointing out are as plain to a faithful Christian as the nose on your face, yet so easily dismissed at the same time.  Our “Christian culture” is, and for so long has been, caught up in massive cathedrals, fantastic budgets, shiny things and money, and with all of that power too, the this-worldly power and this-worldly wisdom of those things.  The power of the perception that the church is here to stay due to outward appearances rather than what’s in the heart.

TV preachers with private jets are perhaps at the far end of that spectrum, but that is so last decade now.  Today, the church hitches the wagon to “Christian nationalism” – to flag, apple pie, and partisan politics, as if we are not exiles, not resident aliens, as if not only do we get a vote, but you should go count them again and again and again until you can find 11,780 more votes, because we are the majority, the proud, the MAD Christians who want our country back!

Damn it!

We are willing to “fight like hell” for … for … for … for Jesus, of course.

Yeah.

That’s not the Spirit of God raising Jesus from the grave; it’s the American can-do spirit that can’t raise the dead.  

Pilate asks Jesus if he is king of the Jews, and Jesus claims his kingdom is not from this world.  If it were, he says (and get this part clearly if you can), “My servants would fight.”

Let me draw on another book for a minute.

Many years ago, I read David Horowitz’s autobiography, Radical Son.  Back in the 1990s, when it was published, I was still a young man thinking I needed to get involved, to get informed, and vote.  I lived in Arizona at the time and listened to a lot – I mean a LOT – of political talk radio, and one evening Horowitz, who I had never heard of before that time, was interviewed about his book.

Horowitz has lived a fascinating life.  Politically, he has gone from one extreme to the other, or at least almost to the other.  He grew up in the 1950s the son of Jewish Communists keeping their political views “underground” – especially in those days.  The 1950s when the name “McCarthy” was synonymous with political witch hunts.

I had grown up thinking McCarthy was a nut.  I still think that, but I grew up thinking his scrutiny was utterly baseless.  That, it turns out, was not the case.  There really were Communists among us, and they really did plot revolutions.  They didn’t have nearly the clout or the reach McCarthy feared, but they were real, alright.  Horowitz gave a firsthand, personal account from the insider’s (or should I say “outsider’s”) perspective.  (Well, he definitely was an Outsider’s Insider!)

Horowitz was just a child, but his parents hosted clandestine meetings of fellow Communists in the basement of their home.  They wrote and read books.  They got informed and acted on their information, all while culturally sanctioned almost into oblivion.

But here’s the oddity of that: it took faith to live like that.  Surely an irony for godless communists, but also for the rest of us too!

I will never forget how Horowitz described his father taking him for evening strolls around the neighborhood, quietly discussing how life will change after the revolution with such courage and confidence, all in hushed tones lest their ambitions be discovered, and they become persecuted.  They would look at street signs like “Washington” or “Franklin” streets, like “Liberty” or “Constitution” avenue or boulevards.   The older Horowitz taught the younger that after the revolution, they would change those names to something like “Lenin Place” or “Stalingrad Way.”

As a Christian, reading Horowitz’s account of such faith in the revolution to come while enduring the status of exile or resident alien, I envied something I couldn’t quite put my finger on at the time.

There are at least two suggestions I would like you to consider after pointing all that out.  1) The homeless, and homeless ministry, have unseen resources from another world that the church in America today NEEDS to find.  “The poor are rich in faith,” says the Good Book (Jas. 2:5).  We surely need the poor to share their wealth with the church!  It is the kind of wealth the church needs more than any other.  2) Instead of running to the ballot box to fix our issues with CRT, mask mandates, defunding police, or higher taxes, let us plot revolution through our lifestyle of love, of patience, with hope and faith while we pray and seek first the Kingdom of God and letting him add to our lives the things we need.

Life like that might get pretty raw, but it is The Way of Jesus and his Abundant Life.  It is the bearing of his image that the world needs.

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