The issue seems to be about overcoming the individualism. Whether it’s the mimetic rivalry of ancient paganism, the individual ambitions of Pharaoh, or of our advertising centred world today, it is a matter of the idol of self. This idolatry militates against the image of God in which we were created, to reflect God’s self-giving love into community and into creation itself.
God’s purpose then is to restore this original priesthood. Not the human corrupted priesthood, that officiates over the sacrifice of others, but the priesthood of Christ, who offers himself in our stead, and takes upon himself our violence, to open us all up to the possibility of sharing God’s forgiveness and Jubilee. We are priests of this true image of God. And as the true priesthood, we are also kings, servant/ rulers over a new creation, that is recovering through sabbath.
So how does this happen? What can we do? How can this recovery take place? We say we are insignificant. We are only one or two people. We are not in the corridors of power in this world. We don’t have the important positions. We have limited influence and impact.
The gospel shows us that change is from down, up… not from up, down. Jesus didn’t impact the world from the top. He came down, lowered himself, and impacted all things from the bottom. He became a slave to make the change that would renew everything.
He said that the rulers of the world impact things from above, on top, from being over the people, but we rule from underneath, from the bottom, serving the least of the people. This is where change happens. The rulers over this world can’t change the world.
Sinai, the law, retribution, war in the Old Testament, was from the top, down. The gospel is from the bottom up, God coming off the mountain and into the child at Bethlehem. The law and its punishments work on the outer man, the gospel works on the inner man.
One thing we have noticed through experience is that change comes from the grassroots. If we are talking about peace, peace doesn’t come just through holding talks at high levels, through dialogue about the differences in our faith. Peace isn’t about merging our faith ideas so we don’t fight. Peace doesn’t come through talking, but through doing. And the place “to do” is at the grassroots level. We need to get to the place where people are suffering, where the common person is in need. This is where the hurt is. This is where the bitterness in our nations is. This is where the potential volatility is, the anger, the strife.
Peace comes to our community as we meet together at a community level and begin to reach out to each other, form relationships and address the structural and daily needs that affect people’s lives. Without this there can be no peace, no sabbath, no rest for our communities and nations. This is where the rest and healing comes from. If it doesn’t happen here, it can’t happen at any other level. The good news about this is that this is something we can all do. We can all be nation changes, because it is at this most simple level than change comes to our nations. This isn’t about electing the right person to office, because when governors see us living this way, they will follow. It will catch on, no matter who is in office. Paul called this the church bringing the wisdom of God, of the cross, to the powers of this world. This is what he meant.
Our nations can’t do this unless we come together, breaking down our ghettoes of separation between racial and economic groups, and begin to intermix to form relationships and serve. Unless we do this, we can forget about any real change, any harmony coming to our world. This is the place where our problems exist, and this is where they are healed.
It isn’t terrorism, healed by force. It is fractured lives, healed by shared lives. This was the message Jesus preached. This is the message we try to say he didn’t preach, because we like a private message of private religion, that is irrelevant to a world in distress, that tries to fix the world through punishing others, rather than finding out the need.
The first thing needed is sharing our lives with our neighbours at the grassroots. Restoration comes to those who suffer, through human care, mercy, shared at the grassroots. This is what the church should be looking to live out.
What is Church?
The early church was like this: A Roman soldier, a banker, a farmer, a slave, a Greek, a Jew, a Barbarian, an Asian, African, European, all came together to break bread. As they ate together, the banker asked the farmer, “How was your day?” The farmer said, “Not good. Our crops failed and we can’t pay our interest rates this year. The bank is taking away our farm.”
Then the Roman solider asked the Jew, “How was your day?” And the Jew answered, “Not good, a solider brutalised our village and wounded my father.” These were the kind of conversations that went on, until they began to know each other, in a way that their Roman world didn’t permit. They began to understand and serve each other, repairing what the brutal world had done, restoring their relationships, lives and communities.
But after some time, things began to change. The bankers became embarrassed and they withdrew from the common fellowship and formed their own churches called, “Bankers for Christ.” This is what the Africans, Europeans, and farmers eventually did. Now we have Christian individualism. This isn’t what God meant us to have. We must get back to the plan for the church, as it was in the beginning. We need to eat together, to form common communities, not separate suburban lives. If we want peace, and not war, this is how we get there. We break down divisions. The hatred we have between nations, races, tribes, people of faiths, people of different economic or political groups, settled people and refugees, people at peace and people at war and in hunger. Instead of scapegoating these groups, we must overcome our fear and condemnation of others and overcome evil with good. If we don’t do this, we “will bite and devour each other,” and our teeth these days are nuclear.
Jesus gave us the solution. It was about our neighbour. The lawyer, like the devil’s advocate today, asked, “Who is my neighbour?” trying to limit his involvement, his orbit of care for others. Neighbourliness is the solution for our world. Living like neighbours, like we all live in one African village, where we have a duty of hospitality and care towards our common man. It’s what Paul talked about, “If one member suffers, the whole body suffers.” This is the lesson the church brings to the world, rather than the pagan solution to our problems, which is violence and scapegoating. We can’t say that the problem in another part of the world is “their problem.” It also our problem. If any part of the body is sick, it spreads to us all. Hurt and anger in one place spreads to us all. We are all in this together. We must help heal each other. Jesus called it, going into all the world. If we say the world must repent, then show them what repentance is. Show them what Christ did for us, by sharing the same love with others. We have this obligation to our neighbour, whoever they are. When we go out to the road to Jericho and we see someone lying there naked and unconscious, we don’t give them a questionnaire to fill out. “Please fill in the personal details below. What race or tribe are you? What nationality? Do you believe in Mary worship? Can you please explain the Trinity? Are you Muslim? What are your moral beliefs?” A wounded person is a wounded person. A hungry stomach is a hungry stomach. What if the person is our enemy? “Love your enemy.”
Stop Turning Our Backs
We must find a way of healing our communities. We can’t just leave the poor behind. Jubilee forbids this. The poor who lost their land, must have it returned, and their debts forgiven, no matter the complaints of the “self-made” business man. No one is self-made. The Jubilee says we cannot turn our backs on others and expect shalom in creation. Creational wisdom does not work that way. If coal mines are closed, those who worked in them must be restored into a new livelihood. They can’t just be cast aside. The economy must be restructured, the people retrained. We can’t just try this, we must succeed at it. These things matter a lot. Our wholeness depends upon it.
There are many things we could address here, but we close just by considering one of them. That is, about education. We can see in the example below, how scapegoating works and leads us to a fragmented and dangerous future. We see this happening in our own day and place. It has happened over many years in modern nations, and has often gone unnoticed. We don’t know we have participated in this process. But we all have, in different areas of life.
The way we educate our children is just one example in practical terms. Just say, there is a lack of good education in an area and parents come together to discuss what they can do for their children. They pool their little resources and start some classes. The families and the teaches work hard and over time the school develops. It gets more books and equipment and the standard of education starts to rise.
The parents believe in excellence and in providing the best opportunities for the children’s future. So they press on to develop the school the best they can. They aren’t rich people, because the parents didn’t have great opportunities when they were young. But they want their children to have a better future. Slowly the school increases in its facilities and quality of teachers. The exam results also rise and the school starts competing with the best school in the region.
The standard of school uniforms also begins to improve. At the beginning, the children wore their home closes. Then, simple school uniforms. Now they want their children to improve in the discipline of their dress and appearance. This is all done out of the parent’s love. They just want their children to succeed anywhere in the world. The bible says we are to be the head and not the tail. “If Christians are to impact the world for good, we must be at the top.”
By this time, the nature of the school begins to slowly change. It isn’t led by the initial group of parents, who knew each other and were friends. The school now has professional management, to make sure the developed school is properly run. Things starts to become impersonal. The management says that some of the old philosophies and ways of doing things will have to change. The administration just has to adjust to economic realities, if the school wants to rise to the top.
A letter goes home to the parents, saying that the improvement in the quality of the uniforms means the uniform fee is increasing, again. Some families can’t afford this and eventually their children must drop out of the school. Fees continue to increase, to maintain all the equipment the school now has, like science and music equipment, an art studio and a well-equipped library, computer and sports centres. The school begins to attract the best paid teachers in the state.
More and more of the poorer children drop out of the school. Their parents no longer have relationships with the parents of the children still in the school. Over time, the population in the area starts to split up. Those with children in the school move into a suburb closer to the school. Housing prices there increase, and the other families need to move out, into areas where housing in cheaper. In the following years, poorer children start to become a threat to the school. Some break in at night and steal things. So the management must increase security. Walls are built and surveillance equipment is installed. The higher costs increase school fees even further. More children have to drop out of the school.
And because the parents want their children to have the best moral and ethically education, they decide that non-Christian pupils can’t enrol. They don’t want their children to mix with families of other values. Relationships in the wider community continue to deteriorate, even along racial lines. Separation becomes more entrenched. A wider gap starts to develop between the richer Christians and the poorer families and between the Christians and the non-Christians.
The parents of the children still in the school understand the reason for their success. It was the work ethic they dedicated themselves to. They learned this ethic from their faith, and through this ethic they built a strong and successful school. It is now the best school in the city.
But because of the separations being built into the society, the practice of scapegoating slowly begins. First, it’s against the poorer children, who had been stealing from the school. These children are the descendants of the children who had to drop out of school years earlier. They are called thieves and the police, who, in effect, work for the wealthy people, arrest these children. Now the children have a criminal record, their prospects of entering a good school or finding a good job are depleted even further.
The wealthier Christians respond by lecturing the poorer families, and the families of other faiths, on their lack of Christian values. These other people aren’t doing well in life “because they lack these better values.” The gap between these groups of people continues to grow.
When this happens on an international level, with different languages and cultures also added to the mix, and the different shades of scapegoating that now become available, the eventual outcome is war.
This is the city I grew up in. Our home was between several elite schools. This social dynamic outlined above describes the life I knew. This also describes the country in which my wife and I have worked for many years. These issues, that can be seen plainly in the schools children may or may not be able to attend, have contributed significantly to the terrorism we have lived through for years. The scenario described above is played out before our eyes every day, in all parts of the world. We know it isn’t easy. Economic realities impact us when we try to provide for our children. Raising up a quality school is important. We love our children and their education and nurture matters a lot. How can this be done in a way that is inclusive of the whole community?
These are tough questions that need answers, if we are going to be ruled by community ethics rather than by the economic bottom line. We have a bottom line, and it isn’t economics. Our real bottom line, is that we must live as community, or perish in division, misunderstanding of each other, pain and hostility.
And the way our Christian ethic can be known isn’t by lecturing at those who have dropped out. It is by including them back in. The Christian ethic is shown by sharing, by serving, by building a community that cares for us all. This is the Christian ethic: “God has blessed us, we want to share that blessing with you, so you can see where it comes from, so you too can be saved by faith.” These people may have dirty shoes, bad attitudes, bad behaviours, but so did we when God took us in. Missions pays the price of love and patience and helps people come up to your level. We all need to serve and help each other, because without the other, we are not complete. This is the incarnation. God came down to bring us up.
As Christian parents and as teaches, we have tried to pass on the Christian ethic. We have seen this ethic mainly as the work ethic, the moral ethic. “Work hard and be morally faithful to your family.” These are great ethics for building our lives and becoming successful. Discipline and moral virtue are two of the greatest things we can give our children. This is what our Christian schools of the past have been built upon. These have become the greatest learning centres of the world today. But the greatest Christian ethic is the community ethic. This is what we have not built upon. This is why our societies are divided. This is why there is so much suffering in our world. This is why we have terrorism. This is why we are going to war today. This is the origin of violence.
And another ethic that is vital in our world of judgement, rejection and separation, is how to handle those who fail. Our ethic isn’t about everyone measuring up to some discipline and moral standard. The moral standard is love, which is bringing us all forward together when we fail. Our ethic is healing. It is restoring each other in love. This is the essential community ethic for us to nurture, in our families, among our divergent groups, and between our cultures and faiths.
This isn’t being said to blame private schools. This isn’t being said to blame anyone. None of us are to blame, and yet we are all at fault. I am just using our schooling as one example of how we can include others and work to build in a community style. This community healing is the essential thing. We must build a society that doesn’t leave people behind, a Jubilee society. At least as much as possible. This is the proficiency we must strive for, in practical ways, that reach out to others at ground level. People left behind will always become scapegoats. There are no simple answers to this. Working to bring us all forward together is difficult for many reason, social and economic. It is very difficult.
But we have a choice. Either we learn and grow in this kingdom of God way of living, or we continue in satan’s way, of divide and conquer. We cast out satan by satan, or we cast him out by the gospel of Jubilee. Which way is more difficult? I guess that depends of how great our potential to destroy each other is. The more technologically advanced we become, the more innovative and dangerous our weapons, the more important it is that we pay attention to the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels and learn to do them.