“the kingdom of God isn’t just going to drop out of the sky”

kathyescobar church stuff, dreams, incarnational, injustice 24 Comments


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.