I was invited to post a blog over at the Evolving Church: Kingdom Economy site. It went up quicker than I thought – so I’m a bit behind – but thought I’d share it here too. I’d encourage you to check out the other posts over at Evolving Church and if you’re in the Ontario area consider registering for this conference. I taught a workshop at it last year – and it is a fantastic learning experience.
It is interesting to me that the economy of the Kingdom is described as being about ordering things. It would seem to me that the necessary disordering of things is the only shot we have of breaking through our haze and glimpsing the way of the Kingdom.
One of the postures that Tim Keel speaks of in his book, “Intuitive Leadership” is the movement from control to chaos. Now, I thought that I liked change and that I had a pretty good threshold for chaos and the creativity that could emerge from such times of disruption. What I didn’t fully realize was that what I really liked was controlled chaos – particularly when I was in the driver’s seat.
In the last number of years, in my work with those marginalized from the heterosexual mainstream, I have experienced a disruption of my assumptions and certainties that was threatening and uncomfortable. I consistently felt God pulling me out of the driver’s seat and thrusting me into places of tension that I could not find a quick or easy resolution to. And while the whisper of accusation was readily present to suggest that I’d somehow slipped down the relativistic slope, or that the way I was questioning and thinking would inevitably wound and fracture the very Jesus-community that I loved, or that God himself was shaking his head sadly at the conundrum I’d created for myself, at a deep and audacious place within my spirit came the nudge to press into these questions because they somehow “smelled a lot like Jesus”.
The questions I was asking about how to relate and engage with my gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgendered, queer or intersexed neighbours seem to me to be at the heart of our search for a Kingdom economy. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think they eclipse the questions of the land, or food, or money or any of the other brilliant perspectives shared by other contributors. What I mean to simply suggest is that the heart of our search for a Kingdom economy is relational. What we discover at the heart of relationship is what can help us sniff out the subversive, up-side down economy of Jesus. And where relationship is lacking, where our questions get lost in the world of the theoretical, doctrinal, systematized and reductionistic, I’m afraid we begin to stink like the empire.
The picture we have in Isaiah 11 is a profound shattering of the enmity that marks so much of our existence:
In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all.
Our legacy of engaging those who do not neatly fit into our safe categories for gender and sexual identity has often been one of exclusion, oppression and enmity. In the name of Christ and for the sake of righteousness we have fought over the semantics and constructs of orientation and identity. And we have left human lives trampled and discarded in our wake. Regardless of our deepest convictions about the appropriateness of committed same-sex relationships or gender transitions, we are called to live out a Kingdom economy in our relationships with those who experience life at the margins of our privileged and dominant heterosexual and gender normative status. This will require embodying the kind of humble maturity that can acknowledge the diverse ways that followers of Jesus engage these complex and individually unique realities. It will require a willingness to face our own anxieties and insecurities around sexuality, gender, difference and ‘the other’. It will require a pressing in to a truly Kingdom shaped hospitality that makes room and celebrates the spiritually formative opportunity to welcome the stranger. It will require a willingness to embrace paradox and tension and at times say, “I know not.”
I recently had a number of delightful personal encounters all in the same day. In the morning I had breakfast with a same-gender attracted woman who has been committed to living a single, celibate life for many years. This has been a tremendous struggle for her and she shared about a woman she is currently very much in love with and the great challenge of daily submitting these desires to Christ. Her faith is robust, honest, authentic. Christ is her first love, her truest and deepest love. Her courage and perseverance inspired me. I then had a morning meeting with a number of pastors from a large church along with several gay Christians. The pastors were building relationships with gay people in their local contexts and beginning to live in the tensions of denominational boundaries and guidelines, personal convictions, and deep investment in relationship. The gay Christians in this group came to a variety of personal conclusions about God’s will for how they would live out their experience of sexual identity. They spoke up poignantly about experiencing double standards and inconsistencies in how they were viewed and treated alongside those in the heterosexual mainstream who believed or practiced in divergent ways. The pain AND the love in the room was palatable – and no one had a quick or easy answer to the dilemmas facing this group of Christ-followers all deeply wanting to love Jesus and build community together. Then over lunch I met with a previously partnered, now single, gay-affirming lesbian woman who shared God’s call on her life to “love them to Him”. She glowed with excitement as she recounted the people God has brought across her path who felt alienated from Him and from the church and the ways she felt God using her to be an encouragement and source of hope for them. And I was blessed by her passion to share Christ. In the evening I met with an evangelical pastor and two gay Christians who were trying to create a safe space to build bridges and truly listen to one another. They were committed to regularly spending time together, simply getting to know one another and grow in their friendship together. In the midst of this kaleidoscope of people, perspectives, and passions there was a common thread of welcoming some disruption, some disorder, some tension and discomfort as a way to press more deeply into the way of the Kingdom.
In my journey I have the painful privilege of building friendship and having conversation with a good number of post-Christian gay people. These are often men and women who, at one time in their lives, served as leaders in the church. One recently said to me, “I appreciate that you can see that health and happiness for gay Christians can come from a variety of paths. I believe all of these paths can produce health and happiness for some people. However I would like to add, that for many gay people, like myself, health finally comes only after they have developed the courage to walk away from God.”
The Kingdom economy is about reconciliation. It is about breaking down enmity. It is about experiencing and extending shalom. It is about prioritizing people’s lives over being right.
I would suggest that experiencing a Kingdom economy in our relationships with our glbtqi neighbours will require some disorder and disruption. But as we take the risk to enter those spaces, where there can seem to be more tension than resolution, we will be in the kind of posture in which we can really enter one another’s lives, have new eyes to see where Christ is already at work, and begin to live out the up-side down reality of the first being last and the last being first and the lion laying with the lamb.