From the seed grows the root. The seed, discussed earlier, is Jesus shattering the world order, the logic of ego. This event should cause our imaginations, from birth deadened to any possibility beyond moderated selfishness, to come alive and start to palpate, to chew upon, new possibilities. Jesus came and declared the new kingdom, violated the supremacy of empire, and then left the keys in our hands. The question is: what are we going to do with them?
And so now I really begin. Now I am going to offer some frail ideas sprouted from my imagination (this is not a claim to originality). And this first move is the crucial one. It is the one that decides all that is to follow, and it deals with the basic crisis of human identity (what are people for?). Here you'll know if you're along for my ride or not. Here you'll know where I went wrong. Here you'll be able to quote the fathers and catechisms against me and predict the inevitable failure of my train of thought. I only want to admit that I don't think that what we, Christians living today, are doing anything that is working toward our calling as peacemakers. I think that we are trying to mitigate the harm done by the world order, the system, the structure, but that this is a dead end. The church is not hospice for a dying world. The church is supposed to be a catalyst for the coming of the new kingdom, and even if the kingdom has not fully come we are empowered by the spirit to act as though it has. Even if people are cheating us, we should give them our cloak and invite them for dinner. Love is not put to shame.
So, my calling is to follow the Spirit in living as though Jesus is the Lord. This does not mean that I act as though the empire does not exist or that it has no earthly power. No, it means that I fully acknowledge the empire as I subvert it with every loving action I can imagine. This means that we are filled with the Spirit to play with the power of love in the ruins of Babylon.
Doesn't that sound nice? But, of course, in practice it isn't. To play with the power of love is to die to yourself, this world, to everything our sinful natures is incentivised to desire. It is to lose control of our story. It's hard, if not impossible. And this is the need that churches today, the best ones, meet. Churches give us a communal story, a place for spiritual inspiration and validation, a place to rest our minds in spiritual songs, a place for the renewal of our visions of our mission. I will just assert, because I don't want this post to be another critique, that the church is meeting this need badly. Church is trying to feed the flock using methods analogous to industrial agriculture.
Here it's helpful if you've watched some documentaries on industrial agriculture or read some Wendell Berry. Again, I don't want to fill a page with critique, but I assume that we agree that our food system is insane, toxic, and death-dealing. It is a system driven by delivering cheap goods through externalizing the costs on the poor and on distant lands. It isn't concerned with health, but on satisfying seemingly infinite human desires formed by consumer culture. Perhaps the best way to expose this is to cast a positive vision. This, for me, is best summed up by Joel Salatin as he says that on his farm he doesn't farm cows; he farms healthy grass.
The vision is that instead of trying to keep his cows healthy through intervening after illness occurs, he prevents illness by paying attention to the natural needs of the cow. As he would say, he maximizes the cowness of the cow by providing what the cow needs, fresh green grasses. Thus, he didn't first buy a herd and then chase their health. He first prepared the soil and planted seeds of various grasses. Because he paid attention to the cowness of the cow, he was forced to pay attention to the pasture. This is the point that I think the church has missed, and this is why the church is in a fool's errand of chasing the health of Christians without paying attention to their pasture. We plant churches in the city because we see all the sick cows in need of help, but how can we really help them? We can't help the cow come into all of his cowness until we lead him to green pastures. Instead of church plants, I propose in this series of notes that we need planted churches.
Humans are animals and have many of the same needs as cows. Our prophets and apostles were not backward when they used the shepherd/flock metaphor to describe the church. The good shepherd leads the flock to green pastures because he cares for the health of the sheep. The good shepherd had to know where the green grass was, and to speculate a bit, if there is no green grass, the shepherd must become a grass farmer. This is the shift the church needs to make. There is a basic logic to it, just as Salatin observes. People need to eat. What people eat, how they eat, how they earn what they eat all contribute or detract from their health. My basic point is that the church is not using its resources to help people be healthy because it is focusing on sick cows rather than on healthy pastures.
So, in order to practice our vocation of peacemaking, the church must lead the flock into making peace with the land.