We had an excellent discussion this past Monday at up/rooted.west as nine of us gathered at Wheaton College for a discussion of the political implications of Jesus' gospel of the kingdom of God. Chico Fajardo-Heflin from the Reba Place community and his wife Tatiana (one of the earliest members of up/rooted.west from way back in the day) came out from Evanston to guide us through the topic.
He began by leading us through some of the Roman rhetoric about Caesar Augustus that is paralleled in the gospel accounts (which I was happy to borrow for my advent sermon this past Sunday) - for instance, the way that Mark's Passion narrative is structured to exactly mirror a Roman coronation ceremony. We talked about how the gospel message was intended as an explicit challenge to the imperial imagination of Jesus' day, and how Jesus came to establish a new community, a different kind of "empire" - one of peace, justice and self-sacrifice rather than domination and the violent use of power.
From there our conversation naturally took a turn into the implications for living out the gospel in our own day. We talked about what exactly the "empire" is in our day - agreeing that it is far bigger than just a nation-state like America - that it actually encompasses the whole system of global capitalism that we are all immersed in. We also debated whether Jesus' call to create a new community, a new polis (the root of the word "political"), should encourage or discourage direct involvement in the political and economic structures of our own day. Should we avoid the subtle seduction of empire by withdrawing as much as possible from the systems that surround us, and instead create a new and separate community centered on the values of the God's kingdom; or is it possible to "fix" the empire through political processes, or at the very least, utilize such processes to help mitigate the evils caused by empire? (There was significant but friendly disagreement within the group on this issue, and it was fun to hash the question out together.)
Both Chico and I brought in a number of books for recommended reading on the topic. Some of these included Brian McLaren's new book, Everything Must Change, as well as several Anabaptist authors such as Ulrich Duchrow and Donald Kraybill. One the specific topic of how the early Christian message was a challenge to the imperial systems of the ancient world, we'd also recommend Richard Horsley's Jesus and Empire, Dominic Crossan's God and Empire, or Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat's Colossians Remixed.
Speaking of Brian's new book, we will begin an extended discussion of it after the New Year at up/rooted.west. Since it's a long book that touches on a wide variety of topics we will spread our discussion of it out over several months, leading up to Brian's Everything Must Change Tour here in Chicago on April 4-5. For January (exact date and location TBD) let's read and discuss the first two Parts of the book (chapters 1-9).
In December, on Wednesday the 19th, we are going to have a first for up/rooted: a Christmas Party! Kristine Socall will be hosting and more details will soon follow. This isn't just for up/rooted.west either, all of you are invited, especially those of you who haven't been with us for a long, long while. (Yes, that includes you Matt ;) - and Erin too if you're home from Calvin.) This will be a chance to re-connect, catch-up with old and new friends, and have a little holiday fun. Stay tuned for details and I'll hope to see you there!