There has been enough written on the state of Christianity/religion/etc. that I don’t feel I need to spend time working through it. However, when Walter Brueggemann talks about the church today being “in exile” and having lost the “good old days” I can’t help but concur. He talks about the need to shift into mourning those days and looking towards living with destabilization in the present.
So, those of you who read this blog know where I might be headed from there: how do you do spiritual formation or discipleship in the exilic context of American Christianity? I thought I might offer a few examples:
1. S.F. becomes less about internalized “habits” and more about community-oriented lifestyle. I am convinced that for spiritual formation to be a Biblically and socially valid expression of our transformation in Christ it must create a community of people who act and live a certain way, rather than just isolated individuals in churches or communities. Post-Exile for Israel was about getting everyone back “home” again (cp. the miracles of Jesus in Mark often end with the mandate for the person healed to “go home”) whatever that might mean. Today's SF must lead to communities developing new habits and disciplines (both individual and corporate) that ultimately serve to get the nation "home", which would mean seeing the Kingdom come "here as it is in Heaven." (Mt. 6)
2. Exile leads to a break from the mandate to be culturally entrenched and relevant. Don’t get me wrong, there must be cultural participation in order for the full effect of the Kingdom to be revealed. But by and large, practicing the disciplines of spiritual formation in exile gives us the freedom to “speak over and against” as well as “within” the culture at large. Perhaps abstaining from certain cultural practices can become a form of spiritual discipline? If we were to be honest, spiritual disciplines have at their core the need to a) change a person’s values and priorities as well as b) speak of the God to whom loyalty and allegiance is truly owed. We therefore can choose, for example, to not vote in the upcoming presidential election if we enunciate the fact that it is because of our state of exile and loyalty to an alternative Kingdom even within this country. Or, we could embody the "negotiation" principle that took place even within the post-exilic Israelites and see our way clear to vote for the purpose of putting the empire on notice that the Kingdom is "already" in influence within its borders. Again, the communal aspect is important here because to act alone on this particular issue may only lead to self-congratulation which is the hallmark of modernist, me-centered spiritual formation.
3. S.F. in exile will lead us deeper into the character and likeness of the “leader of the Jubilee”, Jesus Christ. I constantly resonate with Robert Mulholland that spiritual formation is pointed towards “others” at all times. Just as the character and action of the “logos” was pointed toward others, spiritual formation in exile will alert us to the practices and habits we are undertaking that are not only inconsistent with Christ but also leading us into a deeper state of indebtedness to the state and its operations as a modern-day Babylon. In turn, it will lead to greater dependence on the world's true King and less reliance on the services, benefits, and entitlements of our contemporary society. Jesus was entitled to turn His charge around in front of Pilate, and refused to do so. Paul used his entitlement as a Roman citizen to avoid prison, but only for a while and eventually the plea to Caesar ended up placing him deeper into the counter-imperial movement (cp. Philippians, just about any verse)
These are incomplete thoughts, but I found Brueggemann’s insight to be worth relaying. Also, I found myself reflecting on the conflict in John 6 over Jesus' statements on bread and body. Given that John's audience would have been dealing with Pharisaical persecution as well as Roman persecution, the moment when Jesus compares himself to the account of the manna in Exodus is profound. I believe He is announcing the equivalency of His movement with the movement of the Israelites from Egypt, and consequently the movement of Judah out of Babylonian exile. So, in a sense, the community of the exile in Christ must be centered at all times on the meal of Jesus and the open table that it represents, taking the nod from the legal passages in Exodus-Deuteronomy about welcoming the foreigners and aliens to the community and giving them legal activities to show their adopted citizenship.
Involved post. I go to see what Bailey is doing in the living room and switch the iPod to the Avett Brothers. Thanks Tom Joad. "If I get murdered in the city/don't go avenging my name"