The authors of “Colossians Remixed” write: If with Christ you died in your baptism to the principles of autonomous consumerism that still hold the world captive, then why do you live in a way that suggests that you are still in the iron grip of its ideological vision? Why do you submit yourself to its regulations to consume as if there were no tomorrow, to live as if community were an impediment to personal fulfillment, to live as if everything were disposable, including relationships, the unborn, and the environment? Why do you allow this deceitful vision to still have a hold on you? Don’t you know that copulating with the idols of this culture is like climbing into bed with a corpse that is already decomposing?”
This paraphrase of Colossians 2:20-23 is intended to shake us a awake because God knows that we fall into the slumber of the curse far too easily, which is the sleep of accepting the world in which we live as ‘normal’. When this happens we lose our capacity to imagine a better world, which leaves us stuck in status-quo lives. The greatest tragedy though, is that we don’t know we’re stuck, having accepted the captivity to cultural mores as “normal”. In such a paradigm, faith is stripped of its transformative power, having been reduced to simply a matter of adding a dash of Bible reading, chastity, piety, and a few key doctrines about Christ’s deity to our “normal” lives, the way we add seasoning to an omelet; nothing changes other than the hope that things taste a little better with Jesus.
John Lenin did a better job of imagining a different world than the church has done. What steps can we take to recapture our imagination?
1. Get out – By “out” I mean, out of the prevailing winds and waters of the culture. Jesus withdrew to a quiet place to pray, often to the mountains. This is perhaps more significant than we realize, not only the praying, but the withdrawing. This is because our spirits and psyches quickly adapt to our image saturated culture, resulting in our passive acceptance of things that should horrify us. A simple walk in the park, listening to the birds, watching the ocean, and paying attention to the rhythms of life sustained by the Creator, becomes a sort of ‘reboot’ for the soul if we practice actually paying attention and giving thanks. These regular forays into the realm of silence and solitude create a soul attuned to how the world ought to be, so that we come to see ourselves as sojourners, foreigners, in our daily living. We’ll recoil at the disposability of everything: relationships, plastic water bottles, the elderly and ill, employees who are reduced to ‘units of production’. We’ll grieve over the obsession with body image that’s literally killing young girls, even as we grieve over the damage to health that comes from people sitting, eating fake food, watching TV, and calling it a life – withdrawn from sustaining sunshine, health giving food, and the vibrancy that comes from movement of body, mind, and spirit.
Perhaps the greatest impediment to imagining a world of hope and beauty is our passive acceptance of things just as they are. They way out of that prison will always include changing the air we breathe – breaking out of the prisons of consumerism, nationalism, violence, and individualism, so that we’ll be free to inhale the life giving air of Christ’s peace, beauty, simplicity, and hope. But this won’t happen by using our precious discretionary moments only to sit in front of the TV, or the computer screen. We need an alternative reality, because as it turns out, we are in fact transformed by the renewing of our minds, not by the inspiration of reality TV.
2. Become obsessed with Christ’s reign. Jesus says something about the impossibility of serving two masters in the context of his exhortation to live more carefree, like the birds, and less like the anxious striving that usually seems to be the lot of those seeking to make their mark in this world, or at least get their fair share of economic pie. What’s most interesting to me about this section of Jesus’ famous sermon is that Jesus says we can’t serve two masters. It’s noteworthy that he doesn’t warn us about the danger of trying to serve the kingdom of God and the kingdom of upward mobility. He says that you CANNOT serve both; it’s an impossibility. Whichever one you serve, you’ll hate the other.
Wow. That’s challenging! If I try to have my “kingdom of this world” cake, and seek to make Christ’s reign visible, I’ll fail – every single time. I need, then, to become obsessed with only one of these two options, and Jesus makes it clear that the best option is to choose His reign as our obsession. This will mean that everything – my time, money, property, body, vocation, travel plans, vacation, sexuality, recreational pursuits, exercise program – can all fall under this single consideration: “what will best make Christ’s reign visible?” Far from being constrictive, I find this single focused approach to life to be liberating as everything is brought under the single consideration of making Christ’s reign visible.
Of course, if we’re going to go this route, we need to become obsessed with understanding the kingdom. Otherwise we’ll create, in Jesus name, some sort of controlling legalism, or prosperity/healing thing, or obsession with creating conversions while we ignore the entire glorious physical dimension of Christ’s reign. All of these have been tried, and they all end up being ugly. We’d better be working hard to get it right. This is where good reading can help, like this book, or this book, or even this book. Understanding the kingdom, coupled with our pursuit of intimacy with Christ will conspire to create something beautiful:
An imagination saturated with a Christ formed view of our world, and some clear steps regarding our part in making it visible.
You may say that I’m a dreamer – but I’m not the only one.