Saturday, March 26, 2011

When popular icons failed

Declare this in the house of Jacob, proclaim it in Judah: Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but do not see, who have ears, but do not hear. Do you not fear me? says the Lord; Do you not tremble before me? I placed the sand as a boundary for the sea, a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass; though the waves toss, they cannot prevail, though they roar, they cannot pass over it.

But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart; they have turned aside and gone away. They do not say in their hearts, "Let us fear the Lord our God, who gives the rain in its season, the autumn rain and the spring rain, and keeps for us the weeks appointed for the harvest." Your iniquities have turned these away, and your sins have deprived you of good.

For scoundrels are found among my people; they take over the goods of others. Like fowlers they set a trap; they catch human beings. Like a cage full of birds, their houses are full of treachery; therefore they have become great and rich, they have grown fat and sleek. They know no limits in deeds of wickedness; they do not judge with justice the cause of the orphan, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy.

Shall I not punish them for these things? says the Lord, and shall I not bring retribution on a nation such as this? An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule as the prophets direct; my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes?

- Jeremiah 5:20-31

We’ve been reading through Jeremiah lately in the daily lectionary. Here he has God speaking of limits to what humans can do, and humans striving to transcend those limits wherever possible.

I just finished reading a book by Brian McLaren called Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope. McLaren is one of my favorite Christian authors. Here, he outlines the major crises facing our world and comes to the conclusion that we have created a “suicide machine.” We are still doing the very kinds of things Jeremiah warned against, but the problem is that we’ve created systems to bear the blame so individuals don’t have to.

The “suicide machine” operates only because we believe in it. From a young age, we are taught lessons through a sort of invisible curriculum. One of the lessons we learn is that we are entitled to have anything we want right now, and not worry about the consequences until later.

What will we do to dismantle the suicide machine? Let’s follow the lead of Jesus, who was neither pro-Caesar nor anti-Caesar. Rather, he regarded Caesar as irrelevant to his purposes and God’s. Jesus’ disinterest in the dominant paradigm of the Roman Empire allowed him to draw the wolves of “the system” out of the shadows so they could be exposed for the killers they are.  Jesus’ resurrection went unnoticed but by a few, and from that few, seeds were planted that would begin the revolution. We are still carrying out that meek revolution that says, “Thanks, world, but I know myself better than that. I’ll follow God’s way instead.”

The Kingdom of God is breaking in among us—it’s already here, though not yet fully realized—and it just takes our participation to make it real. When we participate in the Kingdom of God, we don’t rush to exceed our limits—what McLaren calls “the overconsumption crisis.” We don’t live at the expense of others, but look for opportunities to share from our bounty instead. When the Kingdom comes—and it comes every day in places all over the world—we are saved from fear and death.

Here’s Sting with “Jeremiah Blues,” originally from his 1991 album The Soul Cages.

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