As a Jesus follower, I want to be a part of the culture Jesus came to bring– the culture he so often calls “The Kingdom”. I want to be a part of a counter-cultural movement that radically changes the world– one that sees the will of God done here on earth, as it already is in heaven.
One of the things that we often completely miss about scripture, is that the “next world” or “afterlife” is a pretty small blimp on the radar of the Bible. All things considered, it’s not discussed much. I believe this is in part because God doesn’t want us to be so caught up into “then” that we miss “now”.
We’ve often been hyper-fixated on heaven and hell being places you go instead of things that you bring— when in reality, you and I both have the opportunity to bring elements of heaven, or elements of hell, to this world– right here, right now.
There are times in history when we’ve done a good job at bringing heaven to earth, and even more times when we’ve done a good job at bringing hell to earth. Often we choose the later simply out of being fixated on the next world without giving much, if any, regard to the world we’re in today.
One of the things I love about being an Anabaptist is the focus on rejecting the rules of living in earthly kingdoms (such as the participation in violence) in favor of bringing the principles of God’s Kingdom to the here and now. As I’ve said before, building a culture that looks like the nonviolent Jesus is an all-hands-on-deck proposition, and requires creativity in how we contribute to reforming culture. Often when it comes to social or cultural change, we band together with other “like minded” people in our own Christian tribes and make our contributions in complete isolation from people who seem different than us.
My question becomes: what if the potential partnerships out there are greater than we ever imagined? What if we’re not doing as much good as we could accomplish because we’re only working within our own tribes?
I think this is the case, and this week reminded me of that.
My friend Terry is an atheist. And, not just an atheist but he actually writes for one of the biggest atheists blogs around– Friendly Atheist. This week he wrote a beautiful Open Letter to a four-year-old terrorist in training half a world away, (read the piece, it’s great) who you can meet in this heartbreaking video:
Terry’s response reminded me how much we (all of us) often have in common, and how much good we could do in the world if we found creative ways to work together. In the piece, Terry writes:
“Imagine this beautiful four-year-old kid, but unsoiled by adult hatred and indoctrination, on a playground in Beirut or Amsterdam or New York. Imagine him drenched in late-afternoon sunlight, and in the easy, near-inexhaustible love of parents and siblings whose thoughts are free of revenge, rancor, and rage. Think of what he could accomplish, down the line, with his friendly demeanor, his engaging smile, and his bright mind.
Now picture what he may become instead, surrounded by believers who teach him savagery and murder; who poison his mind with images of a vengeful god demanding blood; who show him kindness on the condition that he’ll be their pliable, gun-toting automaton.
What a cute, delightful little boy.
And, if neither he nor his minders come their senses, what a loss.”
My heart laments along side the heart of my atheist friend… what a loss.
Both sides know this isn’t the way things should be– hatred, war and violence are all elements of hell on earth. I believe that if we can choose to stop seeing each other as enemies we will realize how much our common humanity binds us together. We might even realize we want a lot of the same things for the world.
Some of my atheist readers have often said that we actually have a lot of goals and social ethics in common, and this is true. Unfortunately I think we often miss this truth when we see each other as enemies.
We don’t have to be– because as far as I’m concerned, we’re not.
One of my favorite moments in blogging was becoming friends with an atheist reader who had previously described us as “enemies”. We’ve since come to realize just how much we share in common– and I think if more of us will become willing to step over the barriers and embrace friendship over enmity, we might be shocked at what we could do together.
There are more times than we realize when the values of a Jesus follower completely line up with a “friendly atheist”. When that happens, we must work together with all of our might to make this world a little less broken and a little more beautiful.
Today, I share the sentiments of my atheist friend. We jointly mourn the fact that this young child is bring raised to hate and not to love, and we jointly commit to working together whenever and wherever possible, to make the world a little less broken.