"I love Jesus does He know, have I ever told Him so, I must tell Him everyday, I must tell Him when I pray…" Verse two of the children's song,"Jesus loves me."
You might NEVER consider yourself as a subversive. In fact, you probably hear the word subversive and quickly begin to intellectually entertain images of the 1960's or times in history which have been dominated by revolution. Most Jesus followers are much more apt to think of themselves as a small child in a loving embrace with their best friend, Jesus. To consider Jesus hearing our prayers and listening to our feeble attempts to worship His goodness and grace and giving a few bucks to causes that further what we consider to be His "work" is the extent of our imagination for being a disciple. Yet, have far from the truth could this belief be…from Jesus Himself, through the early followers of the Jesus movement, being subversive was the "main thing" of Christianity…why? Because the faith, because the power and presence of Jesus is inherently counter-cultural. It proclaims that there is a Kingdom that is MORE important than this earthly experience…it proclaims that there is meaning beyond cultural meaning and that there is power inherent in being aligned with God's Kingdom that trumps any power that can be presented by what we experience around us.
Subversives need to know their "stuff." In other words, we need to know what we are up against in order to represent the King and Kingdom to which we have been saved, empowered and released to do Kingdom work. So, here are some "ideas for subversives"…think and pray over these for a minute or two and you'll see what I mean:
1 – Subversives know your battlefield.
Our Cultural Context – We live in a world that embraces:
* Culture of Betrayal – people are suspicious and cynical of all institutions and systems of authority which leads to either rage or numbness.
* Culture of arrogance – people's emphasis on the "I"…that sense of being self-made leads only to self-centeredness and narcissism. The bible was NOT written just for us and our edification. The importance of the written Word of God is that it is just one way that the Living Word (Jesus) reveals Himself in the context of our lives. The living truth/Word cannot be owned or parochially handled. We submit ourselves to "it" (better yet, Him) not vice versa.
* Culture of Suspicion/Incredulity toward all Meta-narratives – I know that is a mouthful, so let me tell this story: people are justifiably suspicious of all the grand stories of the past. Many are seen as destructive lies (e.g. Marxist utopia, Technological progress promise, Myth of capitalism, even the Christian story). They have not freed people but enslaved, oppressed and led to violence.
* Culture of Distrust of traditional human "anchoring" points – things like community, clubs, churches, neighborhoods and families have become dismantled or severely reinterpreted by people with agendas that rob them of personal meaning. Our moral, relational and personal anchors are, in many respects, non-existent.
* Culture of Post-rationalism – nothing can be "scientifically proven" it has to be experientially proven. And because experience is so individualistic, there is no prevailing meaning or purpose.
* Culture of Consumption – we have been defined by our appetites. People are so bored that we fill our world with worldview options and consumer-directed faiths…everything is available to our tasting and consumption. Somebody that I respect called our culture a "carnivalesque"culture, one filled with superficial, entertainment based options without depth and transformational potential.
* Culture of Crushing Despair as well as Naive Optimism. In other words, people are either feeling destroyed or they are living in a fantasy world.
2 – Now, I know that the above list is a bit on the "heavy" side for our consideration in a blog post. But I'm sensing more and more the rising stakes of what it means to be a Jesus lover and follower in contemporary culture. We have to know more than just a few Christian songs and we need to do more than just show up at a building on a given day of the week to nurture our relationship with God. Jesus had something to say to His disciples and He has something to say to you and me – He says, "GO!" Know that you are living examples/ambassadors for another Kingdom. Know that you and me answer to another Lord. Be honest about the craziness of our world. That is why discipleship is inherently subversive. We read a document, we ascribe to a Truth source that is subversive – the Bible is subversive in that:
a. It appeals to the imagination of a new world.
b. It appeals to shaping the imagination of community.
c. It appeals to a reimaging of world with Jesus as Lord.
d. It appeals to us to immerse ourselves in a bigger narrative that can so permeate our imaginations that we can be transformed.
e. It challenges the split-vision worldview that divides faith from life, church from culture, theology from economics, prayer from politics and worship from everyday work. As long as the culture can keep us engaged in pietistic individualism, we will never impact the world. As long as we are convinced that "religion is a private matter" we essentially leave the shaping of public and dominant imagination to culture.
f. It shares with us a worldview that is a vision FOR life (not just a vision OF life). It gives a lens to interpret the world and is prescriptive for the world in that it provides the community with its most foundational values and norms. For example, in a world where truth claims are reduced to power struggles between competing interests, the bible tells us that power games are not worth playing. Jesus is doing something different.
g. It tells us some very significant and dangerous things – here's something to consider, fellow subversives: Christ followers must succeed from one order in order to join another. Succeed from the union of power, money, ambition and ignorance or genius, the disciple of Jesus walks quietly away. Christ followers must bear no other IMAGE but the image of God. We "put to death" the vestiges of culture and "strip off" the old self that was deformed by that culture, with a call to the resurrection life of the new self that is clothed in a different set of virtues. If the story of the broken world no longer has a hold on you, then the good news of Jesus can shape your character.
Parker Palmer put it this way, "to know something or someone in truth is to enter troth with the known…to become betrothed, to engage the known with one's whole self".
Relationship engulfs the totality of a person's mind, heart, soul and strength (i.e. Deuteronomy 6:4ff)
* People ground their identities in possessions, triumphs – "the more we plaster our names on everything we accumulate, the more we cling to surface and style, the less we find underneath"
* While spirituality becomes secularized buying and consuming become vehicles for experiencing the sacred. The infinite longing of the heart has been interjected into objects – the newest, the best, the costliest, and the always interminably improved. Our malls are our new cathedrals…eternity is a cologne…infinity is found in a car. One's heart can be anchored in the promise of possessions.
* Culture – is a cult. It is a system of revelation. It is the entire range of corporate ritual, of symbolic forms, human expressions, and productive systems. It quietly converts, calls for commitment, transforms, inspires heroics, and emits a sense of fulfillment. Culture does not teach, it propagandizes. It is an idolatry – in whose image humans are recreated and diminished.
* A Gospel is a revelation – an ultimate source of reference wherein we find ourselves revealed. A Gospel is a response to the questions of who we are, what we may hope for, how we may aspire to act, what endures, what is important, what is of true value.
* Following Jesus, if it is real and true, does not merely change the way you worship…it changes the way we play, work, buy, sell, love, do life.
* The movement of Christianity defines the ultimate in terms of God's Kingdom breaking into the world to redeem a new global community. Jesus tells us that we will find our ultimate satisfaction not in seeking life but in losing it in service to others.
* We can no longer be adherents to dualistic discipleship. In spite of all the talk about Christ's Lordship, everyone knows that the expectations of the culture comes first. That is the unspoken façade of modern Christianity. Christ followers tend to make decisions like everyone else – based on income, professions and social status. Modern Culture shapes our lives – overwork, single-family detached homes, congested time schedules.
* Following Jesus can no longer be trivialized as little more than a devotional lubricant to keep us from stripping our gears when pursuing our own lives. It has been reduced to quiet times and Sunday mornings…highly privatized and spiritualized and disconnected. Modern culture defines the good life.
* The first community of followers turned the world upside down. They were constantly challenging the dominant values of their culture AND paying the price. The contemporary church often is one of the strongest apologists for protecting the dominant values of the world. The church should be a counter-cultural community.
* Being a Christ-follower is not something that you work around the edges of an already overcommitted life. It is a whole-life proposition…it challenges us to reorder our entire existence. Instead of trying to excuse what Jesus actually said, followers act on what the Lord commands.
* "if we say Jesus Christ, then we are called by him to a life of simplicity, a life without racism or vengeance, a life of compassion and trust, a sharing of our goods, a consciousness of and attention to the world's poor, and a committed covenant in faith, hope, and love. In a culture that increasingly demands the "thingification" of human life, we are called to struggle with the "personhood" of the universe. A saint is a true revolutionary". John Kavanaugh