Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Onward Moderate Christian Soldiers

By John C. Danforth

It would be an oversimplification to say that America's culture wars are now between people of faith and nonbelievers. People of faith are not of one mind. whether on specific issues like stem cell research and government intervention to the case of Terri Schiavo. or the more general issue of how religion relates Io politics. In recent years. conservative Christians have presented themselves as representing the one authentic Christian perspective on politics. With due respect for our conservative friends, equally devout Christians come to very different conclusions.

It is important for those of us who are sometimes railed moderates to make the case that we, too, have strongly held Christian convictions, that we speak from the depths of our beliefs, and that our approach to politics is at least as faithful as that of those who are more conservative. Our difference concerns is the extent to which government should, or even can, translate religious beliefs into the laws of the state.

People of faith have the right, and perhaps the obligation. to bring their values to bear in politics. Many conservative Christians approach politics with a certainty that they know God's truth, and that they can advance the kingdom of God through governmental action. So they have developed a political agenda that they believe advances God's kingdom, one that includes efforts to "put God back" into the public square and to pass a constitutional amendment intended to protect marriage from the perceived threat of homosexuality.

Moderate Christians are less certain about when and how our beliefs can be translated into statutory form, not because of a lack of faith in God but because of a healthy acknowledgement of the limitations of human beings. Like conservative Christians, we attend church, read the Bible and say our prayers.

But for us, the only absolute standard of behavior is the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. Repeatedly in the Gospels, we find that the Love Commandment lakes precedence when it conflicts with laws. We struggle to follow that commandment as we face the realities of everyday living, and we do not agree that our responsibility to live as Christians can be codified by legislators.

When, on television, we see a person in a persistent vegetative state, one who will never recover, we believe that allowing the natural and merciful end to her ordeal is more loving that imposing government power to keep her hooked up to a feeding tube.

When we see an opportunity to save our neighbors' lives through stem cell research, we believe that it is our duty to pursue that research and to oppose legislation that would impede us from doing so.

We think that efforts to haul references of God into the public square, into schools and courthouses, are far more apt to divide Americans than to advance faith.

Following a Lord who reached out in compassion lo all human beings, we oppose amending the Constitution in a way that would humiliate homosexuals.

For us, living the Love Commandment may be at odds with efforts to encapsulate Christianity in a political agenda. We strongly support the separation of church and state, both because that principle is essential to holding together a diverse country, and because the policies of the state always fall short of the demands of faith. Aware that even our most passionate ventures into politics are efforts to carry the treasure of religion in the earthen vessel of government, we proceed in a spirit of humility lacking in our conservative colleagues.

In the decade since I left the Senate, American politics has been characterized by two phenomena: the increased activism of the Christian right, especially in thr Republican Party, and the collapse of bipartisan collegiality. I don't think it is a stretch to suggest a relationship between the two. To assert that I am on God's side and you are not, that I know God's will and you do not, and that I will use the power of government to advance my understanding of God's kingdom is certain to produce hostility.

By contrast, moderate Christians see ourselves, literally, as moderators. Far from claiming to possess God's truth, we claim only to be imperfect seekers of the truth. We reject the notion that religion should present a series of wedge issues useful at election time for energizing a political base. We believe it is God's work to practice humility, to wear tolerance on our sleeves, to reach our to those with whom we disagree, and to overcome me meanness we see in today's politics.

For us, religion should be inclusive, and it should seek to bridge the differences that separate people. We do not exclude from worship those whose opinions differ from ours. Following a Lord who sat at the table with tax collectors and sinners, we welcome to the Lord's table all who would come. Following a Lord who cited love of God and love of neighbor as encompassing all the commandments, we reject a political agenda that displaces that love. Christians who hold these convictions ought to add their clear voice of moderation lo the debate on religion in politics.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The kingdom of God

By Brian McLaren
(excerpted from the book Secret Message of Jesus)

This idea -- that the kingdom of God is about our daily lives, about our way of life -- may lie behind the tension people feel between the words religious and spiritual. Perhaps the word religious has come for some people to mean 'believing in God but not the kingdom of God.' And perhaps the word spiritual has become a way for others to mean "living in an interactive relationship with God and others as a daily way of
life." In this way, the influence of Jesus may be as strong outside of some religious institutions as inside -- and maybe even stronger. This may even help explain why church attendance has been plummeting across Europe and in many part of the United States. When Christianity sees itself more as a belief system or set of rituals for the select few and less as a way of daily life available to all, it loses the "magic" of the kingdom.

I've spent a lot of time in Europe during the last ten years or so. I love to visit the beautiful cathedrals in whatever city I visit. I often will sit quietly and feel the gentle grandeur of their past. Before long, though, I also feel the poignant pathos of their present, since many of them attract tens of hundreds of times more tourists than worshipers in an average week.

What went wrong in those cathedrals? And what is going wrong in much of the stagnant, tense, or hyped-up religiosity of churches in my own country? Those questions take us beyond the scope of this book, but you can guess one of my main hunches: the Christian religion continues to sing and preach and teach about Jesus, but in too many places (not all!) it has largely forgotten, misunderstood, or become distracted from Jesus' secret message. When we drifted from understanding and living out his essential secret message of the kingdom, we became like flavorless salt or a blown-out lightbulb -- so boring that people just walked away. We may have talked about going to heaven after we die, but not about God's will being done on earth before we die. We may have pressured people to be moral and good or correct and orthodox to avoid hell after death, but we didn't inspire them with the possibility of becoming beautiful and fruitful to heal the earth in this life. We may have instructed them about how to be a good Baptist, Presbyterian, Catholic, or Methodist on Sunday, but we didn't train, challenge, and inspire them to live out the kingdom of God in their jobs, neighborhoods, families, schools, and societies between Sundays.

We may have tried to make people "nice" -- quiet citizens of their earthly kingdoms and energetic consumers in their earthly economics -- but we didn't fire them up and inspire them to invest and sacrifice their time, intelligence, money, and energy in the revolutionary cause of the kingdom of God. No, too often, Karl Marx was right: we used religion as a drug so we could tolerate th abysmal conditions of a world that is not the kingdom of God. Religion became our tranquilizer so we wouldn't be so upset about injustice. Our religiosity thus aided and abetted people in power who wanted nothing more than to conserve and preserve the unjust status quo that was so profitable and comfortable for them.

What would happen, I wonder as I sit in the light of the glorious stained-glass windows of a cathedral in Prague or Vienna or London or Florence, if we again tasted the good news of Jesus -- not as a tranquilizer but as vibrant, potent new wine that filled us with joy and hope that a better world is possible? What if, intoxicated by this new wine, we threw off our inhibitions and actually began acting as if the hidden but real kingdom of God was at hand?

I sit in those great cathedrals and grieve this terrible loss of identity and direction, this sad adventure in missing the point. It may sound strange to say, but I feel sorry for Jesus, sorry for the way we've dumbed down, domesticated, regimented, or even ruined what he started. But inevitably I also begin to imagine the secret message of Jesus being explored and explained and celebrated in those cathedrals once again, and I can imagine standing-room-only crowds filling those sacred space in the not-to-distant future. Back home, I can imagine kids and young adults not dropping out of churches (as they so often do when our churches are purveyors of bad or mediocre news), but instead bringing all their friends so they, to, can share in the secret message, the truly good news of the kingdom of God. I can imagine us abandoning the bad idea that some people are "clergy" (the special ones who perform) and others are "laity" (the passive
ones who observe -- and often critique -- the performance of the clergy). Instead, I can imagine us seeing everyone as potential agents of the kingdom."

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Religious left and right: A dangerous direction to take

By David Dykes

Calling oneself a Christian is easy. Being clear about what that means is never easy; at least I don't think it should be. I say this because

if I take my faith seriously, that means I work with it, I continually search for its meaning, I wonder whether I'm living up to its claims.

I'm meeting more and more people who say that for them, faith is a life-long journey that goes deeper and deeper into the reality and presence of God. They say that they know they never will have it all figured out, but they find meaning and comfort in understanding their life of faith as a dynamic process.

I think this is the way so-called "religious left" people approach faith. Political rhetoric applied to how people engage their faith is dangerous. It's so easy to play the game of who's right and who's wrong. So let's be careful.

Some people think that being a person of faith means believing in a set of propositions that are difficult to believe.

For people who respond to religious left understanding, faith is not about believing difficult things. Faith is about being in relationship with God, an on-going search for an ever-deepening relationship with God. And faith is about being faithful to that relationship.

In this understanding, God is forever wrapped around us, as close to us as our own breathing. Marcus Borg has said, "God is the water, we are the fish."

Religious left Christians understand their relationship to God by looking at Jesus' relationship with God. They see Jesus committed to the will of God, to the passion of God.

For some folks, when they hear "the passion of Jesus," they think about the physical suffering and agony of Roman torture and crucifixion. Indeed, the Scriptures tell us that Jesus' suffering was great.

While religious left people recognize and reverence Jesus' great suffering, they also think about what Jesus was passionate about - that Jesus was passionate about God's great passion that traces through the Bible, especially the prophets. God's passion has always been for justice, but not passion for retributive justice.

God's passion for justice was and is a passion for distributive justice. The prophets knew this about God's passion.

Speaking of the prophets of Israel, religious left Christians take the Bible very seriously but not literally.

They understand the biblical story as the story of God's passion for justice standing against the ordinary way human beings deal with each other - violence, intimidation, extortion and manipulation.

And they understand that when Jesus taught his followers about the "Kingdom of God," he did not mean some kingdom of another world. Jesus described the Kingdom of God very deliberately as what the world would look like if God sat in the emperor's seat and Caesar did not.

It was Jesus' loyalty to that vision of the Kingdom of God that made him confront Rome's program of domination and violence and confront its collaborators in the Jewish Temple. And this is what got him killed.

For religious left Christians, following Jesus means following his passion in the life of faith.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Where are the spiritual leaders who reject violence?

March 26, 2006

By Rabbi Les Scharnberg

The beauty of the world's religions is manifest in the best of their teachings and, more importantly, in the inspirational lives of some of their leading figures. On the other hand, despots, zealots and monstrous individuals from virtually every religious community have been able to justify their actions by referencing passages from their sacred texts.

During the past few weeks there have been a number of letters to the editor and “My Word” essays written concerning religious communities. Some have expressed unequivocal criticism of religion and others have been equally unequivocal in maintaining the view that religion is all about peace and love. Those unwilling to hear criticism of religion maintain that the critics don't truly understand the religion. Defenders of religion maintain that manifestations of brutality and hatred are misreadings, or misunderstandings, of that religion. Defenders claim that sacred texts are quoted out of context by those ignorant of the “true” meanings of the texts.

Readers are often left with the impression that what a given religion teaches is simply a matter of how one chooses to read it. There is some truth to this view, especially when one looks at the history of how religious leaders have acted in this world. Sadly, there is also truth in this view because of one other characteristic of religions: Of all social institutions they are the slowest to change, the slowest to embrace new moral concepts, and the least likely to change or modify their basic understandings and teachings of their foundational texts.

This is so even in the cases of texts which exhibit bigotry and cruelty toward those who do not follow that particular religion. This is particularly ironic because most of our major religions have been founded on challenge to the fundamental nature of the received sacred texts and of the ways in which those sacred texts were being manifest in the lives of their devotees.

Abraham and Moses challenged and changed the prevailing Mesopotamian and Egyptian religious views; rabbis challenged and changed the sacrificial systems of the Israelite priests; Christians challenged and changed the rabbinic view of messiah; Mohammed and his followers challenged and changed Christian and Jewish understanding of their sacred texts. In the world of India the Hindus challenged and changed the earlier tribal understandings of the varnas; the Jains and Buddhists challenged and changed the teachings of Hinduism. In the end, the irony is: That which was founded on change becomes as rigid and unchanging as the religious system it challenged.

It is this same challenge and resistance which characterizes religious conflict today. The pathetic attempt of rabbis and Christians to mitigate sacred texts which advocate stoning people for acts which we no longer hold to be egregious clearly demonstrates the futility of their apologetics: As long as such texts as “an eye for an eye” continue to be considered sacred, the zealots, despots and religious bigots of those communities will continue to find “divine” pretext for their ugly acts. Critics will continue to point to such texts as examples of the shortcomings of religion. It makes no difference if some imams are appalled by the actions of some of their spiritual brothers and sisters: As long as they seek to justify continued inclusion of sacred texts urging violent recourse against others, critics will point to those texts as deficits in the Islamic spiritual path. No religion can fully manifest its greatest beauty while maintaining bigotry against the non-believer, hatred against those with different sexual orientations than those the religion endorses. In short, as long as texts of violence remain sacred, so long will the sacred be profaned.

In the end, each religious tradition must ask itself, “Where are the spiritual leaders unwilling to settle for apologetics and defense of the undefensible in their sacred texts?” Until such spiritual leaders step forward it would seem that we are doomed to the weak and pathetic defense of “misquoted” texts and the equally weak and pathetic attempt to distance ourselves from the appalling religious actions of brothers and sisters who share our sacred texts. Where are the spiritual leaders who are tired of hatred and violence being wedded to love and generosity of spirit in our sacred texts? Where are the spiritual leaders willing to refuse texts of violence a place next to our sacred teachings of peace?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

On the Homosexual Question: Finding a Pastoral Response

January 23, 2006

By Brian McLaren

In his prominent role as author, theologian, speaker, and leader of the emergent conversation some forget that Brian McLaren is also a pastor. In the latest issue of Leadership Journal, which focuses on ministry in a sexually charged culture, Brian shares a story that reveals the complexity of the homosexual question—a question where theology, truth, sin, grace, culture, politics, and pastoral wisdom collide.

The couple approached me immediately after the service. This was their first time visiting, and they really enjoyed the service, they said, but they had one question. You can guess what the question was about: not transubstantiation, not speaking in tongues, not inerrancy or eschatology, but where our church stood on homosexuality.

That "still, small voice" told me not to answer. Instead I asked, "Can you tell me why that question is important to you?" "It's a long story," he said with a laugh.

Usually when I'm asked about this subject, it's by conservative Christians wanting to be sure that we conform to what I call "radio-orthodoxy," i.e. the religio-political priorities mandated by many big-name religious broadcasters. Sometimes it's asked by ex-gays who want to be sure they'll be supported in their ongoing re-orientation process, or parents whose children have recently "come out."

But the young woman explained, "This is the first time my fiancée and I have ever actually attended a Christian service, since we were both raised agnostic." So I supposed they were like most unchurched young adults I meet, who wouldn't want to be part of an anti-homosexual organization any more than they'd want to be part of a racist or terrorist organization.

I hesitate in answering "the homosexual question" not because I'm a cowardly flip-flopper who wants to tickle ears, but because I am a pastor, and pastors have learned from Jesus that there is more to answering a question than being right or even honest: we must also be . . . pastoral. That means understanding the question beneath the question, the need or fear or hope or assumption that motivates the question.

We pastors want to frame our answer around that need; we want to fit in with the Holy Spirit's work in that person's life at that particular moment. To put it biblically, we want to be sure our answers are "seasoned with salt" and appropriate to "the need of the moment" (Col. 4; Eph. 4).

Most of the emerging leaders I know share my agony over this question. We fear that the whole issue has been manipulated far more than we realize by political parties seeking to shave percentage points off their opponent's constituency. We see whatever we say get sucked into a vortex of politicized culture-wars rhetoric--and we're pastors, evangelists, church-planters, and disciple-makers, not political culture warriors. Those who bring us honest questions are people we are trying to care for in Christ's name, not cultural enemies we're trying to vanquish.

Frankly, many of us don't know what we should think about homosexuality. We've heard all sides but no position has yet won our confidence so that we can say "it seems good to the Holy Spirit and us." That alienates us from both the liberals and conservatives who seem to know exactly what we should think. Even if we are convinced that all homosexual behavior is always sinful, we still want to treat gay and lesbian people with more dignity, gentleness, and respect than our colleagues do. If we think that there may actually be a legitimate context for some homosexual relationships, we know that the biblical arguments are nuanced and multilayered, and the pastoral ramifications are staggeringly complex. We aren't sure if or where lines are to be drawn, nor do we know how to enforce with fairness whatever lines are drawn.

Perhaps we need a five-year moratorium on making pronouncements. In the meantime, we'll practice prayerful Christian dialogue, listening respectfully, disagreeing agreeably. When decisions need to be made, they'll be admittedly provisional. We'll keep our ears attuned to scholars in biblical studies, theology, ethics, psychology, genetics, sociology, and related fields. Then in five years, if we have clarity, we'll speak; if not, we'll set another five years for ongoing reflection. After all, many important issues in church history took centuries to figure out. Maybe this moratorium would help us resist the "winds of doctrine" blowing furiously from the left and right, so we can patiently wait for the wind of the Spirit to set our course.

Later that week I got together with the new couple to hear their story. "It's kind of weird how we met," they explained. "You see, we met last year through our fathers who became . . . partners. When we get married, we want to be sure they will be welcome at our wedding. That's why we asked you that question on Sunday."
Welcome to our world. Being "right" isn't enough. We also need to be wise. And loving. And patient. Perhaps nothing short of that should "seem good to the Holy Spirit and us."

Found in Translation

'Kingdom of God' is so last-century. Are there new ways to talk about Jesus' good news?

By Brian McLaren

When Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God, his language was charged with urgent political, religious, and cultural electricity. But if we speak of the kingdom of God today, the original electricity is largely gone, and in its place we often find a kind of tired familiarity that inspires not hope and excitement, but anxiety or boredom.

Why is kingdom language not as dynamic today? First, in our world, kingdoms have given way to republics, democracies, and democratic republics. Where kings exist, they are by and large anachronisms, playing a limited ceremonial role in relation to parliaments and prime ministers, evoking nothing of the power and authority they did in Jesus’ day.

In addition, for many today, kingdom language evokes patriarchy, chauvinism, imperialism, domination, and a regime without freedom—the opposite of the liberating, barrier-breaking, domination-shattering, reconciling movement the kingdom of God was intended to be! If Jesus were here today, I’m quite certain he wouldn’t use the language of kingdom at all, which leaves us wondering how he would articulate his message.

It’s a very practical question for people like me who believe that the secret message of Jesus has radical transformational potential today—and who feel called to try to communicate it. Of course, we’ll always need to go back to Jesus’ original words and story, seeking to understand how kingdom language worked in his own day. But then we must discover fresh ways of translating his message into the thought forms and cultures of our contemporary world, if we are to “teach what Jesus taught in the manner he taught it.”

The search for the best translation is an artistic pursuit as well as a theological one. It involves not just a deep understanding of Jesus’ message, but also a substantial understanding of our contemporary culture and its many currents and crosscurrents. Whatever metaphors we choose will likely have a limited shelf life, and each will be open to various misunderstandings—just as Jesus’ own metaphors were.

I’ve been playing with a number of metaphors for the last few years; six strike me as having special promise.

The dream of God. I frequently try to put the prayer of the kingdom (what we often call “The Lord’s Prayer”) into my own words so that I don’t just recite it on autopilot. But I often struggle with how to paraphrase the clause “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Since the language of “will” can take us down a trail of control, domination, and coercion, and since I don’t believe those ideas are in Jesus’ mind, I have looked for other words.

The Greek word that lies beneath our English word “will” can also be translated “wish.” But to say, “May your wish come true” sounds fairy tale-ish and creates other problems. But I have found the idea of “the dream of God for creation” does the job nicely. “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven” could thus be rendered, “May all your dreams for your creation come true.” This language suggests a more personal, less mechanistic relationship between God and our world. It would resonate, for example, with a mother who has great dreams for her child, or an artist who has great dreams for a novel or symphony he is creating.

The call to faith is the call to trust God and God’s dreams enough to realign our dreams with God’s, to dream our little dreams within God’s big dream. The call to receptivity is the call to continually receive God’s dreams—a process that seems to be a lifelong one. The call to baptism is the call to publicly identify with God’s dream and to disassociate with all competing isms or ideologies that claim to provide the ultimate dream (including nationalism, consumerism, hedonism, conservatism, liberalism, and so on). And the call to practice is the call to learn to live the way God dreams for us to live.

The revolution of God. For people like Martin Luther King Jr., attuned to fighting injustice, corruption, oppression, racism, and other forms of social evil, the “revolution” or “revolutionary movement” of God naturally flows from the metaphor of the dream of God for creation.

This metaphor claims that we human beings have created a totalitarian regime—a regime of lust (where too many people are reduced to sex objects or hyped into sexual predators), a regime of pride and power (where some thrive at the expense or to the exclusion of others), a regime of racism, classism, ageism, and nationalism (where people are identified as enemies or evil or inferior because of the color of their skin or the physical or social location of their birth), a regime of consumerism and greed (where life is commodified, where people become slaves to their jobs, where the environment is reduced to natural resources for human consumption, where time is money, which makes life become money). This regime is unacceptable, and God is recruiting people to join a revolutionary movement of change.

The revolution cannot use the corrupt tactics of the current regime; otherwise, it will only replace one corrupt regime with another. For example, if it uses violence to overcome violence, deceit to overcome deceit, coercion to overcome coercion, fear to overcome fear, then the revolution isn’t really revolutionary; it’s just a matter of lateral conversion or regime change. The very success of such a revolution would reinforce confidence in its tactics.

So perhaps we need a modifier in front of revolution to show how the goals and tactics of this regime are radically different: the peace revolution of God, the spiritual revolution of God, the love revolution of God, the reconciling revolution of God, the justice revolution of God. In these ways, we get much closer to the dynamic hidden in Jesus’ original language of kingdom of God.

The mission of God. The Latin term missio dei has long been used to describe God’s work in the world. Its etymology (the root miss means “send”) reminds us that God sends us into the world to be agents of change: We have a task to do for God. True, there is more to the kingdom than mission; being in relationship is essential to life in the kingdom, so kingdom life is not just doing work. But this metaphor still has great value, as long as we complement it with more relational language.

We might adapt the metaphor and speak of the medical mission of God, adding the relational connotations of caring and healing. Imagine that everyone on earth has become infected with a horrible virus. The virus makes people physically sick and mentally insane. Its symptoms vary from person to person and place to place: In one place it causes violence, in another sexual aggression, in another lying, in another paralysis, and so on.

Imagine that a doctor develops a cure. He brings the cure to you and says, “Once you take this medicine, you’ll begin to feel better, but I’m not just giving you the cure for your sake. As soon as you feel well enough, I want you to make more of the cure and begin bringing it to others. And tell them the same thing: they are being healed not just so they can be healthy but also so they can become healers for the sake of others.” Just as the disease spread “virally,” now the cure will spread. A healing mission—where you are healed so you can join in healing others—would be an apt metaphor for the kingdom of God.

The party of God. Jesus often compared the kingdom to parties, feasts, and banquets. Today we could say that God is inviting people to leave their gang fights, workaholism, loneliness, and isolation and join the party, to leave their exclusive parties (political ones, for example, which win elections by dividing electorates) and join one inclusive party of a different sort, to stop fighting, complaining, hating, or competing and instead start partying and celebrating the goodness and love of God.

Just today I met some folks from a church in Minneapolis who demonstrate this metaphor in a dramatic and fun way. A group of them gather on a street corner in a poor part of town. They take overturned trash cans, old pots and pans, and an assortment of drums and other percussion instruments and start creating a loud, joyful rhythm. Soon a crowd gathers. It’s impossible not to smile when you hear the joyful music being made mostly from junk. Homeless folk and people from the neighborhood start dancing. Then the church members start distributing food—not in the somber style of a soup kitchen, but in the joyful atmosphere of a street party. They don’t have to say a word, really; they’re demonstrating their message—that the kingdom of God is like a street party to which everybody is invited.

The network of God. A promising new metaphor works with the idea of a network or system. God is inviting people into a life-giving network. First, God wants people to be connected, plugged in, in communication with God, so God can transfer to them what they need—not just information but also virus-debugging software, along with love, hope, empowerment, purpose, and wisdom. As well, each person who is connected to God must become integrally connected to all others in the network. In this way, the network of God breaks down the walls of smaller, exclusive networks (like networks of racism, nationalism, and the like) and invites them into the only truly worldwide web of love. The network becomes a resource for people outside the network as well, and of course, people are always invited to enter the connectivity themselves.

The metaphor of an ecosystem could work in a similar way: We are currently living in an imbalanced, self-destructive ecosystem, but God is inviting us to live in a new network of relationships that will produce balance, harmony, and health. The metaphor of a community works along similar lines. One thinks of theologian Stanley Grenz speaking in terms of “the community of God,” or Dr. King’s preferred phrases, “the beloved community” or “the inescapable network of mutuality.”

The dance of God. In the early church, one of the most powerful images used for the Trinity was the image of a dance of mutual indwelling. The Father, Son, and Spirit live in an eternal, joyful, vibrant dance of love and honor, rhythm and harmony, grace and beauty, giving and receiving. The universe was created to be an expression and extension of the dance of God—so all creatures share in the dynamic joy of movement, love, vitality, harmony, and celebration. But we humans broke with the dance. We stamped on the toes of other dancers, ignored the rhythm, rejected the grace, and generally made a mess of things. But God sent Jesus into the world to model for us a way of living in the rhythm of God’s music of love, and ever since, people have been attracted to the beauty of his steps and have begun rejoining the dance.

There are many other metaphors we could explore. In a sense, Jesus’ creative use of parables sets an example for us to follow. It inspires us to ongoing creative communication—seeking to convey the kingdom through the symbolism of words as he did in the short fictional form of parable, and also in poetry, short story, novel, or essay. But it doesn’t stop with the symbolism of words. People have been inspired to express the kingdom through the symbols of space and form, color, and texture—in architecture and interior design. They have used the symbolism of movement and gesture in dance and drama. They’ve used the visual languages of painting, sculpture, collage, flower arranging, or gardening. Even the symbolic language of taste can express the kingdom in cooking. Come to think of it, we might say that the kingdom of God is like an arts colony.