Future Letter To The Last One

This is a fictional letter written to a Christian in the distant future. It was inspired by the book project Letters to a Future Church that is hosted by IVP-Likewise books and Patheos. Please check out some of the great letters composed by thoughtful voices in North American Christianity. Here’s my contribution:

Future Letter to the Last One

Dear Rosa Watkins,

I hope all is well with you. I’ve been wanting to write to you for a while. I’ve been waiting for all the media flurry to subside. I can’t imagine how you emotionally survived the overwhelming attention of being the last professing Christian on our dear planet. I was amazed by the coverage and numerous documentaries of your own spiritual journey and how this ancient faith sustained you to its very end. Are you saddened or thrilled to be the last one? I cannot imagine the emotions you are experiencing as you remain the last disciple of a religious tradition that has existed for several centuries.

I’ve had the coveted opportunity of pouring over global archives on the Christian faith. It appeared to be, and I’d add remains to be through you, a resilient faith for centuries. It had its up and down moments. Seasons of complicity with political and social oppression and exclusion. Missed opportunities to be welcoming to all only to give in to harmful and violent human tendencies. In spite of those less than glorious moments in history it still gave witness to a profound counter-instinctual social and political witness of love in a dying world that was plagued by political, social and religious instability. Your faith survived what many call the Circling. When we all nearly brought our small fragile planet to the brink of political and ecological oblivion.

I came across a sermon written by your now deceased pastor, Reverend Josiah Lee, that talked about the completion of what your tradition called the Great Commission. While you have the distinction of being the last Christian, he, of course, has the honor of being celebrated as the last Christian pastor. He said, in his last recorded sermon, that all the nations now follow the teachings of the revered Jesus. I felt a chill down my back when I read the ancient teachings of this person and considered how it has become a vital part of our global socio-political DNA.

Because of this profound Christian witness the global-state we are both privileged to be a part of can not imagine a world where every human being is not given loving dignity by all for all. We cannot imagine a world where a disproportionate number of people live in poverty. In spite of your beloved Christian tradition’s aiding and abetting global injustices until the end of the Circling, the end of the 21st century, something happened.

Your tradition died and rose again in the beginnings of the 21st century to become a global leader to help facilitate what we now see and hear in this present global moment of peace. A world with no war. Where small provinces peacefully collaborate with larger provinces. A global space where we no longer kill each other for a god, a political belief or a natural boundary.

It seems as though Christianity has died and in its ashes the nations were healed. I thank you for your witness to that kind of faith. However, I am saddened by your being the last Christian. But I guess, as you said in a recent press conference, we do not need the Christian faith any longer. You said that Christianity has finally made its calling and election sure. That it has prayed and bled heaven onto the earth for its perpetual healing.

Blessed Memories,

Anthony

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When Skies Preach

Immensity
been here before you
will be here after you
distant yet seen
consistent and unchanging
here for all to see
will you shine like me
say amen to the words we sing
words that have inspired countless bards and holy schemes

when skies preach
the cosmic choir sings

when skies preach
angels spit fire into our souls

when skies preach
nations bow before the Great

say amen to atmospheric prose
the kind that leaves you weeping
in the midst of helpful foes

when skies preach
they say:

O’ ye lil soul.
Satisfied with pusillanimity
Look at me

We are great
and still shine for others to see

An Emerging Profession: Resisting the maintenance of Spectacle (Part II)

 

Continuing the conversation. 

What do I mean by spectacle?

A thought from philosopher Guy Debord from his book Society of the Spectacle:

The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.

If you can recall we began this discussion with the example of popular pastor Bishop Eddie Long and his defense of his lifestyle: I am a CEO of a large non-profit multi-national corporation.  Therefore ‘my accumulation of large slices of the pie is justified…I’m a CEO!’.  The image of CEO gives credence, for Bishop Long and many others, to their accumulation of mass amounts of wealth.  The mechanism of the non-profit is the machinery of accumulation.  Calling his community a multi-national corporation makes it easier for his church to be the machinery of wealth accumulation. 

Makes sense really.  I mean could he get these images from the subversive witness of the Christian New Testament?  When church leaders in the New Testament accumulated wealth and resources to themselves what happened to it?

Acts 4:32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. 34 There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.

Good Evangelical Protestant that I am I cannot help but hold the witness of Scripture as the norm by which I weigh things like this.  This habit of accumulation of wealth for distribution to those in the margins  is a consistent practice of early Church leadership.  There is no amassing of the community’s resources for the apostles personal coffers.  Why is that?  It could be that the guiding image and metaphor of leadership put down by Jesus is quite different than prominent leadership images today (e.g. CEO, set-man).  Jesus used the language of bond-servant and servant as the guiding metaphor and image of community leadership:

Luke 22:24 Now an eager contention arose among them [as to] which of them was considered and reputed to be the greatest.

    25 But Jesus said to them, The kings of the Gentiles are deified by them and exercise lordship [ruling as emperor-gods] over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors and well-doers.

    26 But this is not to be so with you; on the contrary, let him who is the greatest among you become like the youngest, and him who is the chief and leader like one who serves.

    27 For who is the greater, the one who reclines at table (the master), or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am in your midst as One Who serves.

Jesus taught the apostles that they were not to lead like the benefactors or patrons of their communities.  What were the benefactors/patrons? Insights from the political-economy of ancient Rome-dominated Israel give us insight:

Roman warlords, emperors, and other patricians became obscenely wealthy.  Not only did they bring boundless booty back from their conquests, they also built up vast personal empires of wealth from the practices of imperialism that made them wealthy and powerful while impoverishing and ruining the Roman citizen-soldiers. (p.24)

From Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder Richard Horsley

Jesus de-mystified and de-constructed an image that upheld a social arrangement that maintained an imbalance of power in the community.  He uses the image of the Patron or Benefactor as his foil or example.  These were positions at the top of the political economy of Jesus’ day.

If Jesus were walking with us today (I know he is in his Body in asmuch we are faithful the gospel of the kingdom) which image of rulership would he use to de-mystify and uncover unjust arrangements of power?  From the world of politics it would be Congresspersons, Judges, Presidents, and Prime Ministers.  From the world of economics it would be Shareholders, CEOs, etc.  From the world of religion it would be popes, bishops, apostles, etc.  Jesus, I imagine, would demistify and uncover these images and metaphors to show us that behind these images there can and oftentimes is an unjust arrangement of power.

What I find amazing is the mountains of data put out by various groups that keep up with CEO salaries compared to the average worker in a corporation.

What has this to do with spectacle?  Recall that Debord told us that a spectacle is a social relation that wants to appear as a collection of images.  Oftentimes in church we want to use the spectacle of the CEO as an acceptable metaphor or image of leadership in the Body. 

But how is this image or spectacle of the CEO maintained?  If the image or metaphor of pastor-as-CEO is really a social relation what kind of relation do we oftentimes find in our communities when this image is bought wholesale?  And how is it maintained?

Tomorrow.

Gordon Parks…a true Renaissance man

 

 

(November 30, 1912 – March 7, 2006)

I stand in amazement of the figures that have recently passed on from the scene (e.g. Coretta Scott King, et al).  I remember as a child hearing about Gordon Parks and his contribution to what I call the black prophetic canon.  He will be missed.  His voice and contribution to the arts and social change will be remembered for a long time.

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