"the kingdom of God isn't just going to drop out of the sky"

kingdom-is-not-going-to-drop-out-of-the-sky

i’ve been in a bit of a blog fog.  real life is extra crazy & busy & full & good; i have all kinds of ideas i’ve love to process together, but between the refuge and kids and wacky seminary & university instructing gigs there’s just no time.  for now, i’m just sharing what i can, realizing i would love to be more creative and mix up the medium here a bit, but just can’t right now. so i guess you just get to keep hearing me ramble now & then!

i just got back from a 3 day adventure down to albuquerque NM for the emerging church conference hosted by father richard rohr’s organization, the center for action and contemplation.  a few of us roadtripped there with little to no expectation, just that we’d hook up with a few friends from phoenix and california, laugh, play, and hear what’s going on in the wider body of Christ.  it was a beautiful gathering, far bigger than i expected (1,000 people, i think).  the majority were 50 years old and over & from the catholic tradition.  i loved the simpleness, the lack of slick and cool.  we got a little bit of over-conference-fever here and there and skipped out on some stuff, but i did hear all of the speakers (there were no workshops).  while i really enjoyed phyllis tickle, brian mclaren, and shane claiborne, my favorite hours were alexie torres-fleming and richard rohr.

there’s no way to encapsulate all that alexie shared, but i’ll say that i felt the holy spirit rise up in me and touch a place that needed touching.  her sense of love and heart for her neighborhood–the bronx in new york–and for the kingdom of God to be made more real there was powerful.  puerto-rican, she was raised in the projects and encouraged to move up-and-out; then, after living a life of success and money for a while, God lead her back to her local parish on a journey of downward mobility and justice & advocacy activism that is transforming her once decimated neighborhood.

i though i’d share a few of alexie torres-fleming’s “quotes” (note–the quotes because i am sure i didn’t write them down precisely!) that were highlights for me, powerful stuff that i can’t recreate, but i thought i’d give you a taste:

“the kingdom of God isn’t just going to drop out of the sky .” that sort of says it all.  we are Jesus’ hands, feet, heart, eyes, ears, mouth.   i know there are some who think the spirit of missional is too behavior-focused, but i totally disagree.  Jesus’ spirit propels us not to do good deeds for the sake of good deeds, but to love our neighbor tangibly because he deeply loves them; his actual physical hands, feet, heart, eyes, ears, mouth are no longer here, but ours (Jesus incarnate in us) are.  a spiritual thought does not bring the kingdom of God to earth, but a spiritual action does.  the sum total of lots and lots of hands and feet and hearts and eyes and ears and mouths can change the world.

“are you a Jesus fan or a Jesus follower?” oh, i loved this question!  coming into palm sunday i think of the fan-like mentality of so many when we see and explain Jesus from a distance.  in the palm sunday story he’s pretty cool, does some amazing things, and suddenly becomes the team to consider being on.  but being a follower of Jesus, well that’s a different story.   just a few days later his most devoted disciples ditch him, deny him, and watch from the sidelines.   being a Jesus fan is clean and requires little sacrifice or true change in how we actually live our lives. following Jesus is messy, unpredictable, and sometimes  just plain scary.

“i became a weeper.” she cried and cried during her talk.  it was refreshingly unpolished and real.  she shared that as her heart was broken by Jesus, her eyes opened to the beauty and dignity of the least of these, the tears started to flow and just can’t seem to stop, a little like jeremiah.    i have never been a big crier and still am not compared to a lot of my waterworks friends, but i can say this:  the more my heart is directly connected to others true stories and battles of living in an unjust world filled with pain, suffering, and darkness, the more i mourn and weep on their behalf.  as Christ followers i believe we are not supposed to keep a cool, professional, sanitized distance from pain.  as God’s heart breaks for his people, ours does, too.  i also realize that a lot of time i yell instead of cry.  it somehow makes me feel better,  maybe because for so long i never let myself get mad about anything because i thought anger was wrong.  and even though i respect anger now, i got a sense this weekend that yelling instead of crying is just my prideful way of coping with injustice.

“it’s not that there’s no bread, it’s just that the bread is poorly divided.” this is so true!  i don’t believe the government can change the world, but i do believe that a wild and crazy intentional movement of a spirit of generosity sparked by God’s call to love can.

“the power people just weren’t there.” in describing a demonstration she organized in her neighborhood, she observed who was there and who wasn’t.  all of those present were powerless and typically voiceless; the “power people” were nowhere to be found.  i believe this is a huge call to all of us who have some form of power, whether that be as a leader, a benefit of white privilege, because of money or education or a variety of other things that give us leadership & value & voice that some of our friends don’t have.  will we use our power on behalf of those who have none?  i believe the world, the church,  would be a vastly different place if those in power didn’t separate from those without it.

“when we are silent we stand on the side of the oppressor.” strong statement.  i know that it is often no one’s direct intention, but i believe that silence is not neutral.  i will use a very small example when it comes to women in full leadership in churches. i know people who fundamentally believe in women in leadership yet are silent in the churches they attend because they don’t want to rock the boat or stir up dissent or end up losing their communities over it.  their silence means that they are agreeing with an oppressive system.  they are unintentionally voting with their feet.  another example:  take a racist comment made at work toward a co-worker.  silence in that moment means we are siding with the joke teller because we didn’t have the guts to say “that’s wrong.”  on a much wider level, when we allow our brothers & sisters to live in substandard housing, be stripped of their dignity and constantly silenced and pushed down because they are victims of race, class, gender and a variety of other discriminations and obstacles against them, standing by and observing their plight instead of doing anything about it means we are actually agreeing with the system that oppresses them.  that’s one worth thinking about.

there were so many other great thoughts she shared, but i’ll leave with this, the passage she read at the beginning of her talk that touched a deep place.  read ezekial 37: 1-14.  the dry bones of the church.   i do believe this is what God is doing in the body of Christ right now, breathing life & hope & love & energy & movement into dry bones.  this weekend, i felt a little more of God’s breath into my sometimes tired & creaking, sometimes passionate, sometimes angry bones.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

24 Comments

  • “are you a Jesus fan or a Jesus follower?” I think this is a brilliant question!!

    Think I’ll ponder on this sentence for the next week. Thanks.

    Reply
  • Kathy, It is now 3:30 am on 3/26/09. I was awakened from a dream of God’s authority in my life to press forward through situations in which I am obviously unqualified. The message I got from my dream was peace (which transcends all understanding), when I comply.

    I find myself doubting the authority given to me and frankly, I am scared of the responsibility that goes with it. I must return often (as I am not the brightest bulb on the block), to the simple message of the Gospel.

    Christ lived, died, was buried, resurrected and ascended to the right hand of the Father to restore man to fellowship, authority and dominion over this fallen world. When Jesus stormed forth from the dark abyss and ascended into the heavenlies, all believers were raised and seated with Him. I am reminded that all believers are identified with Christ from Calvary to the ascension.

    But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:4-6 (NLT)

    We have become victors, so it makes sense to act accordingly. In Him, when He subjugated the troops of darkness and left them unarmed and disabled, we who believe are participants in that triumph. Even now, we are so much a part of Him that we are called the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). As we submit to Jesus Christ, His authority is ours. Jesus didn’t defeat satan for Himself…He did it for us.
    I say all of this to remind myself that God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.

    “Are you a Jesus fan or a Jesus follower?”
    My hope is that I check all my words & actions through this question to avoid complacency!!!

    Keep up the Good work!

    Reply
  • “are you a Jesus fan or a Jesus follower?”

    Oh how I would love to ask this question of the people fervently singing the “worship” songs on Sunday morning at church…

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  • Seems the Jesus fan or follower question struck home with most. Personally I am hit over the head by this statement: “when we are silent we stand on the side of the oppressor.” Thank you for being a strong voice even in your weakness. Your heart, encouragement, and persistance help me wake up in the morning.

    Reply
  • Hi Kathy, I share Alexie’s gift of weeping. In contemplation that morning I saw a valley filled with poor and starving children. When Alexie spoke, I understood the vision. I wept through the table discussion. Some who claim to be Christian opress the poor and the outcast. We cannot be silent. Wish we could have connected there. Maybe here. Peace to you. ~ Calvin

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  • the conversation in the Blog O Sphere is ramping up ….

    “the kingdom of God isn’t just going to drop out of the sky .” – it’s here!!! Jesus told us the Kingdom is here. As citizens of that Kingdom our lives are lived in the outworkings of the Sermon on the Mount.

    “it’s not that there’s no bread, it’s just that the bread is poorly divided.” – indeed – great quote.

    As always I enjoy the teaching you have to offer – Shalom.

    Reply
  • Kathy, when I heard that quote, “when we are silent, we are not neutral, we stand on the side of the oppressor”, I leaned over to my neighbor and said that was the most powerful quote I think I’d ever heard.
    The weekend for me was overwhelming. On Sunday, we worshipped and shared communion together. To see people of all different faith traditions sharing communion in that way was unbelievable. There was alot of crying going on including me.
    Thanks for reminding me of all the wonderful, inspiring things Alexie had said.

    Reply
  • I am almost certain you did not quote Alexie exactly, my sister…because she very likely used some capital letters.

    🙂

    All the quotes were good, but looking at the comments so far, it seems the Jesus fan/Jesus follower one is resonating a bit more than the others.

    I really like how Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch discuss this. (I’m reading their book “reJesus” right now.) They talk about how by focusing on the divinity of Christ rather than His humanity, the church has reduced Jesus to someone we admire and worship, but not someone we follow.

    Reply
  • I, too, have been in a whirlwind of activity. I love the thoughts expressed by your conference leader. Again, I just want to stand up and shout whenever I read your blog. I especially liked your title, the kingdom of heaven is not going to drop out of the sky. Amen!

    Reply
  • Kathy,
    I am just now getting to some blog posts after a few days of being busy and getting a bit behind.

    This was wonderful! I’m so glad the conference went well. Indeed, these quotes are outstanding and I love how you reflect on each. They truly have so much Love, heart, and Wisdom within each one.

    Blessings,
    ~Amy 🙂
    Walking In The Spirit

    Reply
  • I will break my silence and give a mini-rant. My apologies, Kathy and to those that read the blog and the comments.

    I think that the silent comment (quote) is the one that stands out to me and SCREAMS.

    In the last few months, I have seen dozens of churches in my community that is absolutely quiet (silent) on poverty and the oppresion of the very low income class. It is very sickenening on what is occurring.

    Churches and Church leaders are willing to remain SILENT because they do not want to cause a stir … let us sweep the problem under the rug.

    Not only are they silent on the subject but they are unwillinging to help the cause – a good portion of the reason – it will take time, talent and treasures away from our church work – you know, getting our attendance higher and our cash flow – flowing better.

    It really is sick.

    We, as churstians and church, must break the silence. We must be the voice. I know that there are many that stuggle with the “power” word. But, some of us have the “power” to have our voice heard for many whose voice will never be heard.

    Rant Over ….
    Sorry,
    Jeff

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  • wow! so good. thank you for sharing this…it gave me hope…not only for myself, but for the body of Christ in general.

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  • Kathy…I would not call this “rambling”! If you call it rambling…well, PLEASE keep rambling! I’m always so encouraged by what God speaks through you! I may see you this Sat. You guys meet at 6:30p.m., correct?

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  • Tammy, we start eating a little simple free supper at around 5 pm, and we mosey upstairs to start the festivities around 6. Our “countdown clock” has been broken for about 3 years now…

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  • abmo – yeah, i thought it was a great one, too, and have really been pondering it a lot this week also…

    george – wow, that is quite a dream. thanks for sharing it; God speaks in all kinds of wild ways. sometimes really following Jesus is so freaking scary. i know often i just want to run for the hills and call it a day! thanks for your heart and the beautiful work that you do in dark places…

    rainier – nice to hear from you again. this seems to be the question many resonated with….

    minnow – thanks yeah, i loved that one, too. it is a big statement but i think it’s true. it causes us to question a lot of things that our silence can potentially support, doesn’t it?

    calvin – i couldn’t stop crying during this one, either! i hope that we can connect one of these days; lmk when you and lisa are in denver!

    mark – when i think of the word kingdom i always think of you! (and my friend kevin who is from UK and lives here and always reminds us of the kingdom!) i love what you said here about the kingdom being now… “As citizens of that Kingdom our lives are lived in the outworkings of the Sermon on the Mount.” yep, there it is.

    brother maynard – thanks for the link love

    jim – it was fun hanging out with you guys, so many great thoughts that will linger. see you soon, i hope!

    jeff – i haven’t read ReJesus, but i agree that in all kinds of ways the way we over-focus on certain aspects of God we can end up limiting our spiritual journey. i know that i can sometimes lean the other way, too, too much focus on Christ’s humanity and not enough on his divinity. living in the tension and the balance i am guessing is part of our continued growth and transformation. ps: how do you know she didn’t speak in all lower caps?

    laurie – i am so glad we can stay connected in spirit across the miles. you are bringing the kingdom to those kids & families.

    amy – always nice to hear from you & glad that you enjoyed these thoughts. it was a great conversation!

    jeff g – thanks for your honesty. yeah, you are up close and personal seeing what really happens in the underbelly of church and politics. it makes me so sad to hear, but it is so real. protecting jobs, attendance, money, buildings over feeding people. it is rough on my soul, too. i love what you said here: “We, as christians and church, must break the silence. We must be the voice. I know that there are many that stuggle with the “power” word. But, some of us have the “power” to have our voice heard for many whose voice will never be heard.” amen. we must use any power and voice we have on behalf of those that have none. cheering you on from afar…

    davida – yeah, those are the moments that restore my hope in the big beautiful body of Christ.

    tammy – 🙂 sage gave you the details, but come on down any saturday night. the website has all the details: http://www.therefugeonline.org.

    sage – i like our version of the countdown clock…”hey all, it’s time to start!”

    Reply
  • Kathy,
    I don’t know that she didn’t speak in all lower case. Like the religious, self-righteous bigot that I am, I just *assumed* she didn’t. I repent. 🙂

    Reply
  • jeff – ha! that made me smile 🙂

    keith – he’s my fav! well, him and brennan manning. my favorite henri nouwen is the “inner voice of love.” what’s yours?

    Reply
  • Hi Kathy,

    I am busy reading up on the various Albuquerque reports. It is great to consider how this conf. affected, inspired, and wowed so many. It is great to relive and rethink what we corporately experienced there. This can be an impetus to be bold and continue to take risks in the Kingdom.

    I liked Cody Stauffer’s report as well as Jonathan Brink’s post conf. report and his interview with Phyllis Tickle. The processing continues to go on in my heart. I have and will continue to share my experience of the conf. with many others, as the Spirit leads!

    Bye for now,
    Barb O.

    Website: http://www.ChurchExiters.com

    Reply
  • Hi Kathy,

    It was great to be in Albuquerque. I continue to read as many reports as I can about the Albq. conf.
    This gives further insights into what we all ‘experienced’ and provides further help when sharing with others. So many are reflecting and processing their time in Albq. and are empowered for service in the Kingdom and in greater efforts to be welcoming to others in the Kingdom.

    My husband found some online video teachings of Phyllis Tickle. They are worth a listen, especially to those who were not able to make this conf.

    Bye for now,
    Barb O. Langley, B.C.
    Website: http://www.ChurchExiter.com

    Reply

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