Reconciliation (part 2): The Beloved Community

MLKJ

Martin Luther King, Jr., encouraged Christians to build a Beloved Community marked by God’s reconciliation with humankind and peace between one another.

By Joe LaGuardia and Karen Woods

Several weeks ago, Trinity’s associate pastor, Karen Woods, and I wrote an article on the art of reconciliation and truth-telling to improve race relations.  This is the second of two articles.

In the book of Genesis, God created Eden, a place where God and humans communed together (Genesis 2).  There, a man and a woman were equal partners in having dominion over the earth.

In Genesis 3, however, a crafty serpent exploited that one nagging feeling we humans have: That if we step out on our own and be like gods, then we can live independently from God.

By listening to the serpent, Adam and Eve sinned.  Division resulted:  Humans were cast out of the garden, hid from God, and were ashamed of one another.

Part of God’s punishment affirmed that division: men and women would live in a hierarchy from then on (Genesis 3:16).

People experience that division throughout the Bible until, at the appointed time, God sent Jesus the Messiah to die on the cross for Adam and Eve’s (and our) sins.  Jesus’ resurrection and victory over death reversed the disharmony between God and humans, and humans one to another.

In Christ, all barriers fell away.

Jesus said that the greatest commandments was love for God and for neighbor.  Paul argued that “in Christ” divisions do not define people (Galatians 3:28).  Rather, people are brought into harmony with God and with one another.

Paul echoed this miraculous act in Ephesians 2:13-16, which states that Jesus’ blood brings us near to God and breaks down walls of division and hostility between people.  We become a “new humanity” that makes up God’s family.

In Christ, there is no slave or free, male or female, Gentile or Jew.  Christ rebuilds Eden 2.0.

No one cannot guarantee that all people will make a decision to follow Christ in order to benefit from that peace and reconciliation.  But that is between individuals and God.

Our concern relates to those who call Christ “Lord.”  Christians are obliged to live in this new humanity and model a household of God that invites people–regardless of differences–into what Martin Luther King, Jr., called “the Beloved Community.”

Jesus created this community before America was discovered, before slavery, before we were born, before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Acts Rights of 1965, 1970, 1975, and 1982.

No amount of legislation makes us equal.  Only living into God’s “new humanity” does.  In that sense, Martin L. King, Jr.’s dream was not far from the Jesus’ vision for how the Kingdom of God plays out in every day life.

There is another thing about Jesus’ act of reconciliation: it never ends.

For far too long, we Christians have ignored what Jesus did on the cross, and many churches remain segregated, stagnate, lost, and aloof.   In some cases, churches adhere more to the partisan politics of the state than the reconciling politics of Christ’s cross.

The major thrust of responsibility falls on Christians because the church is to be a space where co-existence and peace flourish.  If Christians do not discuss these important matters of justice, trust, reconciliation, then who will discuss these matters?

Our concluding questions are important ones for our readers to ponder: What would America look like if Christians practiced a true spirit of peace and co-existence in a fully-realized Beloved Community?  How would our churches, faith, and our very lives change if we adhered to the truths set forth in Paul’s second chapter to the churches in Ephesus?

How would we spread that Beloved Community beyond the walls of the church in order to bring about just communities in which racial profiling, economic inequality, and discrimination no longer have strongholds over the institutions our nation holds most dear?

May God bless us with a Christ-centered vision that overcomes the many divides that create hostility.  May God bless us with renewed hope that the Beloved Community is still our inheritance, a blank check ready to be cashed.

 

Trends in Theology, Pt. 2

This is the second article among several exploring trends in theology.  Theology is a search for and conversation with God to realize how God is working in each one of us, in our communities, in our world, and in history.  We do theology because God calls us to respond to His love in creative ways; such reflection is the stuff of theology.

Last week I mentioned that the work of theology is becoming a global discipline, meaning that Western civilization no longer has a monopoly on theology and that various regions spanning from South America to Japan are contributing to the conversation on how humans and God interact.  The trend I’m writing about this week has to do with the relational aspect of theology.

As the world continues to connect in urban, suburban, rural, and cyber-communities, people are hungering for deeper relationships and sustainable partnerships.  But there is an irony here because people are seeking these relationships outside of churches.  People are attending church less but are joining intimate fellowship groups in far greater numbers.  The aim of relational theology is therefore to put Church back in center stage to help build sustainable relationships.

A theology that focuses on relationships mirrors the Trinity—God-in-Three Persons—for it is the Trinity that gives us a vision of the diverse-but-interdependent mode of what it means to be truly human.  What this means is that we are to see that all humans are interdependent upon one another, and that we find God and experience God by listening to one another’s life stories.  It is within this storytelling that God emerges as a major character in the patchwork quilt of our lives.

This trend in theology also obliges us to seek Christ in community, for the sake of community.   In this way theology does not merely help us think about God or talk about God, it forces us to discover God’s Presence no matter how mysterious or uncomfortable that Presence may be.  It forces us to respond in active social justice and repentance.

Emerging out of this theology is the idea that we are firmly rooted in all of God’s creation whereby Christians see themselves as a part of creation.  We are interconnected with creation and have mutual obligations to creation.

This does not lead to pantheism or panentheism (worshipping the Earth or creation); rather, this is a re-claiming of the ancient biblical understanding that humans are holistic beings who partner with the Earth in order to bring about the effects of God’s redemptive plan in every square inch of our world.

Additionally, relational theology assumes that humans naturally seek out authentic relationships and make us aware that there are some ways of seeking relationships that are inauthentic.  These deceiving paths do not lead to the type of authenticity that includes God in the mix.  One false way of building relationships is partnering with the idol of mass consumerism.

It is my opinion that we live in a sort of technocracy in which major corporations study how we live and then feed us products that we think we need.  As long as these products insure us that we “belong”, we buy into the myth that our material things provide identity.  Such an identity does not foster the God-conversations that theology demands, nor does it enact wise stewardship of creation and of the Earth’s resources.  Instead our own desires in a must-have world blind us to the needs of others.  We are so busy seeking the things of this world, we miss out on exploring how God’s Kingdom is manifesting itself in our midst.

A friend of mine often quotes Desmond Tutu: “I am who I am because of who we are.”  Relational theology requires us to stand before a Trinitarian God that calls us into sustainable communities with our neighbors. It keeps us from falling into a consumerism mold.  It intentionally builds relationships that emphasize our interdependence on the Creator and all creation.