kingdom economy: a brief recap

My original intent post-conference was to pore over my notes and write out some thoughts from each main session and workshop. Having just looked at my notebook for the first time since Saturday, and realizing that there are 14 pages full of some very decent nuggets, I think I will simply pull out a few key ideas and themes and the briefly outline the impact that they had on me.

The presence of Joyce Ress at the conference was definitely a highlight for me, and she reminded us early on in the day that the kingdom of God presents a very ‘upside down’ way of living in this world, and an economy based on that kingdom should therefore reflect those upside down values. One of those upside down values is the call to Sabbath rest, a commandment that, unlike its counterparts (‘do not murder’, for example), is often grossly overlooked if not set aside all together. The values of the economic order in which we live tells us that to rest is to be weak, but, in Rees’ words, “to rest is not to fail; it is to be wise and obedient.” One aspect of her talk that really stuck out to me was the all too present reality of the ‘when…then‘ excuse. This is the false logic wherein we express statements such as “when this project is done, then I can rest” or “once this bill is paid off, then I can tithe.” This is such a huge trap to fall into, more often than not leading to an endless cycle of when’s and then’s. She encouraged us to consider the context in which the people of Israel instituted the practice of Sabbath [a ‘when…then’ waiting to happen], and exhorted us to see Sabbath as a gift and not a curse, an essential practice in regards to beginning to live within the scope of kingdom economy.

While I’m on the Joyce Ress track, I will quickly mention a couple of thoughts from her afternoon workshop. She said that to be human in the Way of Jesus is to do all that we can to humanize others. I came to this conference mindful of the fact that we are transitioning into parenthood and therefore with an ear open to some ideas along the lines of strategies for raising children to be good little ambassadors for the Kingdom. Rees stressed how it is so important to raise children to be non-xenophobic, to not be afraid of that which is different. Huge. I was very glad that I wandered into that Q&A workshop after trying to settle into at least two others.

Chris Seay also had a lot of great stuff packed into his session / a.m. workshop. In a nutshell, his focus was on breaking down traditional yet incorrect perceptions and definitions of common biblical / ‘Christian’ terms and categories. Many of us, for example, have come to understand righteousness as having to do with issues of morality, piety and personal behavior, when in fact a more accurate translation would be justice; literally God taking what is broken and making it whole. [Really puts Matthew 6:33 in a whole new light]. Seay explained that he had learned a helpful tool in regards to breaking down traditional categories of good/bad within this context of righteousness as justice. He said that he has taught his kids this: “Things aren’t good or bad; there is shalom and broken shalom.” There is the world as it is meant to be, and the world as it all to often is; followers of Jesus are called to seek out and embrace brokenness, and to bring the shalom of God into the dark places among us.

Those are the main points that immediately stuck with me post-conference. There was really a lot going on, so it was hard to process all of the information right away. The more I think about J Kameron Carter and his exercise in contrasting Avatar and District 9, the more I appreciate the brilliance of it and wish I could have heard more. The same could be said for David Dark’s thoughts on the kingdom and the arts. On the flip side, I must say that I was not at all feeling Becky Garrison’s contribution in the second main session. Perhaps it’s my new determination to be less cynical, or maybe I just wasn’t getting her brand of satirical humor, but I found there to be a certain interesting irony in the fact she is a soon-to-be Zondervan published author whose twitter handle is the very title of said book. Having said that [and with all due apologies the great contributors that I am not mentioning in this post], I came away from the conference with so much to think about and, more importantly, feeling challenged and convicted about the necessity of change and active response.

It was a really good day, and I am very much hoping that I will be able to be in attendance at the next Evolving Church event in October.

    • kristin
    • April 13th, 2010

    thank you for your thoughts around sabbath rest. especially that it is an act of obidience.
    i was put on bedrest for the remainder of my pregnancy on april 1st. baby girl is due july 2nd. all i can do it get up to go to the bathroom. other than that, i’m in bed or a wheelchair. it’s been 13 days and my eyes have been opened so much to God’s strength, provision and blessings.
    the visitors have been non-stop, i got a bed by the window just this week, and i know that God was watching over us by getting all this taken care of before we stepped on a plane to go to florida. ryan and i have been spending so much time together and it’s been quality. stopping my entire life…job…church…youth leadership…wifely duties…was not my plan. but i’m learning to listen to what He wants for me. keep the blogs coming. i have lots of time to read πŸ™‚

  1. Thanks for the feedback – yeah satire is a tricky business. BTW, I’ve been published since 1994 and find it an ongoing struggle with how to convey a message while resisting the branding biz promoted by Christian publishing. That’s why I prefer doing panels and discussion groups over talks as I’d like to see how we can get the dialogue going in a more horizontal fashion where more folks can participate. That’s why I made my twitter feed the book title – focus on the book (and the stories contained therein) and not on the author as the story.

  2. @ Kristin – Thanks for the comment, and Lauren and I pray that you will feel the presence of the Lord during this period of rest. I sent you an email as well. We will try to come visit very soon.

    @ Becky – Thank you for your response. I can appreciate that there must be an incredible balancing act going on in what you do; maybe I would have gotten a better sense of things if I had attended the workshop and been part of the more dialogue based aspects of your presentation. In the spirit of full critical thinking and not being too hasty in terms of conclusions, I’ll have to get my hands on a copy of the book and go from there. Just not sure how to do that without contributing to the evil empire of Christian publishing that you seem to be so critical of. Thanks again for taking the time to read / comment.

  3. The danger comes not in the books themselves – I have been nurtured by so many authors that I’ve lost count. But we need to be careful about branding select author/speakers as all too often, select individuals and the movements they claim to be representing end up getting worshiped instead of Jesus. For example, check out the latest debates over those who critique emergent church and often what I see happening in the blogosphere isn’t exactly in line with what Jesus preached esp. in terms of forgiveness and reconciliation.

  4. True enough. As a big reader, I love to get my hands on the good books out there, and for sure have, at times, been guilty of putting the authors on a pedestal. There seems to be a very fine line between wanting to get a message out there and becoming ‘known’ for that message. David Dark’s exhortation to think critically is certainly an essential element in that process.

    I see what you are saying, and this qualification helps to put your approach in perspective. I just continue to struggle to see how your medium (satire) lends itself to the forgiveness and reconciliation that Jesus preached and that is missing in debates over these issues.

  5. The purpose of satire is to deconstruct those idols that have been set up (albeit unintentionally) so that we can get at the glimpses of God – think of the court jester, whose role was to tell the King the truth instead of serving as his yes men. The church needs satirists to keep her grounded and mystics to give her hope – too much of one and you end up either with a bunch of cynics that deconstruct everything to the point where there’s no community or people who are so outworldly that nothing gets done in the current reality that we live in.

    Yep, it is a very fine line between satirizing a subject and slamming someone’s soul. A few things I keep in mind – 1) I focus on those in power not the people in the pews; 2) have an accountability group around me to help keep me grounded and remind me when I’ve gone too far; and 3) not take myself so seriously that I’m not willing to say “I’m sorry” and seek forgiveness and reconcile when someone perceives I’ve gone too far. Along those lines, when I am attacked (and my hate mail would curl your stomach), not to respond in kind. The last bit is where I’ve had the most problem – it’s very, very hard to be civil when you’re being compared to say Hitler by someone whose being marketed as a tolerant progressive church leader. πŸ™‚

  6. I understand the purpose of satire, and certainly get what you are trying to accomplish. I’m just not convinced it’s the most loving and helpful response. The problem with the jester analogy is that it assumes that he/she has a firm handle on the truth the intended hearer is in need of, and is also often weighted too heavily on critique and not so much on solutions.

    I respect the fact that you have set up parameters within which to carry out this practice. As per the first, is there not a danger in ostracizing or shaming the ‘people in the pews’ (ie: the ones contributing to the branding and idol-making of the authors/speakers in question) while trying to focus on the ones in power? The second sounds great, and I can relate to the third in so much that it is very hard not to crack back when under fire, and I can appreciate that it would be exponentially more so for someone with the wit necessary to do what you do.

    This brings me back to the point mentioned above, in terms of loving and helpful responses. I clearly see the need for criticism and deconstruction (and trust me, I have dome my share of criticizing the church in recent years), but (as per the definition of satire), I struggle to see how “the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice or folly” is the best or even a helpful response.

    Maybe it’s just me, and as I mentioned in my post, I am trying to move away from cynicism as I see how it has become a problem in that I have tended to look first for the negative in everything. For me right now, satire is not a helpful tool. It doesn’t keep me grounded, but rather breeds within me negative and destructive feelings towards those I am called to love. That’s not meant to be a statement against you or your work; it’s just not something I feel the need to get on board with right now.

    Having said that, I hope it is effective, and that it causes others to think seriously about how they are contributing to this system of idolatry that you are speaking out against.

  7. Actually if you look at my books, I show forth the glimpses of God that can appear after one dismantles the church – also some outlets where I write like The High Calling have a much more positive take than say Killing the Buddha or Religion Dispatches. Even in the God’s Politics blog, I try to combine the dismantling of the church with the raising up what people are doing in Jesus’ name.

    The people in the pew problem is why I pray long and hard before picking up my satirical pen – for example, I am laying off the Catholic sex abuse scandal as I can’t find a way yet to cover that topic without hurting way too many people who are already in unimaginable pain.

    But yes there will be collateral damage but when people develop a lemming like attitude and cling to the words of say Joel Osteen, the latest emergent church guru, Richard Dawkins, Ann Coulter, Zizek, etc. without engaging their critical thinking skills, then some deconstruction is in order. That’s why in my book I describe my experience with Cursillo so folks can realize that yeah, I get being enthralled by a movement but I also see how it ends up producing some very rotten fruit.

    We all have our own tastes in the authors that feed us – I’ve been told too many times by people that something I wrote saved them for me not to stop doing what I do. My hunch is our shelves are probably filled with different reading material, which is fine as long as we choose good works versus faith fast food. (Notice how ever emergent church book for example tends to have the same provocative stuff in it – I’ve even seen several authors use the same story in different books – that’s how bland it’s gotten.) David Dark and I were saying the same thing albeit in different ways – he will touch some people and I will touch others — and some will like both of us. And some will think we both suck. πŸ™‚

  8. I am by no means trying to suggest that you do not present some hope beyond the satire, and I very much appreciated the Claiborne quote about movements that you threw in, as well as the statement that the church is at its best when it operates outside of the centers of commerce and power. [for the record, these ideas come across clearly in the books that I do read – not sure what you are suggesting is on my bookshelf, but feel free to look at the lists of books that I have read over the past few years to get a better idea. You’re so right about the recycling of popular ideas and the dilution of fresh material out there. And please don’t think that I am anti-Becky Garrison and would tell anyone that I think ‘you suck’ … you have peaked my interest for sure, and I do plan on taking a look at some of your books. I very much appreciate you taking the time out of your day to chat about all of this, and I think we would both agree that the Church needs people to remind her to be herself, especially in light of all that competes for our affection and allegiance these days.

  9. I didn’t take what you were saying personally – my reflection was on satire in general as it sounded like that wasn’t a genre that feeds you. My overall advice if you aren’t being fed by something to go and find what feeds you. We all have different appetites depending on where we are in our lives.

    Just watch the speakers at the October conference and I think you’ll see the religious rock star dynamic that I satirize with at least a few of those guys.

    And BTW, the bit I did for the conference were some of the the rudest bits in my book. I was asked to critique empire and that was a section where I did just that. If I went that gonzo for an entire book, I’d want to shoot myself. πŸ™‚

  10. I thought Becky’s talk was hilarious and had a lot of truth in it. Maybe if I was a branded, marketed author I would have been offended. But I think it was more about the system of Christian publishing / marketing and the kinds of Christian culture and discourse that creates (rather than individual authors themselves).

    But I must confess that I was well prepared to receive her comments positively, because I’m quite cynical about these things. The Christian media machine in the US scares the crap out of me. I once read a paper by Richard Mouw where he described Christian publishing as a kind of evangelical magisterium. Functionally, I think he’s correct, and that is what scares me. Popular evangelical discourse is shaped more by marketing than by significant theological reflection. And the most “marketable” material is often the junk food of Christian thinking.

    I’ve never heard a Christian satirist before, so maybe that’s part of the issue – some of the audience might not have known how to react Maybe this is a bad comparison, but is listening to Becky’s talk a bit like watching Jon Stewart? Obviously her talk was not quite as satirical as his normal material, but my point is you watch it because it’s funny, but it is funny because there is truth behind it. But you know how to react when you’re watching it, because you know the material is of a different genre than a regular news program.

    There’s definitely a fine line to be walked there, but I thought the comments Becky made towards the end of her presentation showed that she is well aware of the dangers (I made a note of the comment about satire vs. soul slamming), and that she doesn’t take herself too seriously. I think I’ve probably crossed that line in my own criticisms sometimes, so it’s something to be aware of.

    Thanks for posting this summary Ian. Good discussion.

  11. @James,

    Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Don’t get me wrong, I have been extremely cynical about these matters in the past, not only in terms of books but also in regards to the Christian music industry. At first, I must confess that it all seemed a bit odd coming from, well … a Zondervan published author. It seemed like a critique of McDonald’s and fast food culture coming from someone in line at the drive-thru ordering a small fry.

    I think you’re spot on about not having heard a Christian satirist before. Maybe that threw me a little bit. When you watch the Daily Show, you know that you will get an irreverent yet hilarious take on politics. I’ll confess that I was unfamiliar with Becky pre-conference, and didn’t really know what was coming. There’s obviously a load of truth in what she was saying, but maybe this kind of medium seems out of place in a context that is meant to be defined by love.

    As students, I think we both have come to see the necessity of critical thinking and are able to discern what is real and what is manufactured. It comes down to the question of how we stand up and speak out against destructive powers and systems. Wit and criticism have always come easy to me. I am looking for a different approach these days. Maybe that’s why her talk didn’t resonate with me. You’re right, the points she made at the end really did qualify what she was saying, and that’s not to be overlooked.

    Would love to see a blog post from you on your thoughts from Saturday!

  12. Thanks for the ongoing feedback – James post here if you do a blog posting, so I can check it out. I also do pieces sometimes about new forms of church that are pretty straightforward – but even then I have to make it clear that I’m not coming from a denominational perspective but rather I’m there to stir the pot up a bit. Moving forward, I will make it clearer that I am coming from this outsider perspective.

    The advantage of a conference like Evolving Church is that one gets a range of perspectives. I would be surprised if people resonated with all of us but the hope is you found some voices that fed You. Also, I like doing panels and discussion groups where the satire weaves itself in with other perspectives as that helps put what I am doing into a larger context.

    BTW-I might be signed with Zondervan but I am one of their “fringe” authors. They are NOT marketing me the way they package say Rob Bell. That’s why I said in the beginning that as a female, Anglican and a satirist, I couldn’t be part of the Xn marketing machine even if I wanted to join (which I don’t). And I freely admit this is ironic as all get out especially when you consider that the talk I gave is contained in various places in the book they are publishing. πŸ™‚

  13. hey guys, check out becky’s work at the wittenburg door and her book “red and blue god, black and blue church.” funny; thought provoking; entertaining.

  1. April 23rd, 2010

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