Friday, October 17, 2014

Radical and Subversive

"On the Path"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -

Like most children who grew up in a Christian household, one of the very first prayers I ever learned was "The Lord's Prayer," - "Our Father." 

Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.

Over the years I probably recited this prayer over a million times - sitting alone in a church, at various services and public gatherings, driving in my car or taking a walk. This "Lord's Prayer" was just part of my DNA. Interestingly enough it wasn't until just yesterday that I came to understand just how subversive and even dangerous it is to recite this simple and apparently tranquil, calming prayer that I had first learned as a child.

In her new book,  Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi, Professor of Jewish studies and New Testament scholar, Amy-Jill Levine, offers this insightful commentary on those all too-familiar words of  The "Our Father" prayer: 

I do wonder, do all those who pray 'your kingdom come, your will be done,' really want a change of the status quo or are they pretty satisfied with the 'kingdom' we have here and now? Do they really want the time, as Jesus promises, when the first will be last and the last first, when we are assessed on how well we have loved our enemy and fed the hungry?

It's so interesting that after all these years of mindlessly reciting the "Lord's Prayer," I would be taught something of its real meaning by a scholarly Jewish rabbi.  

There is no doubt about it, Jesus was a revolutionary. In the eyes of the State he was a subversive radical who preached a dangerous message about living in the "Kingdom of God." His message turned the cultural norms of his day upside down. He boldly stood against any system that allowed the powerful to crush the weak, teaching that every human being has equal dignity, no one deserves more than anyone else, no hierarchy, no patriarchy, no class systems.  

He told those who would dare to follow him that they were to continue his subversive mission, to do their part in bringing about this "Kingdom of God" on earth - to be voices for justice and living signs of compassion, always welcoming in those who had been cast away.  In essence Jesus invited all who would follow in his path to be radical, subversive revolutionaries just like he was. 

It didn't take long for the revolution to get tamed by the dominant culture, for the teeth to be taken out of the tiger, as the revolution gradually turned into a church. In some sense the institutional church over the years has become much of what Jesus stood boldly against, so that now people like me can blandly mouth the words "Thy kingdom come" and have almost no clue of just how radically subversive those words really are. 

I actually believe any spiritual path is subversive and revolutionary. It always points in the direction of justice and compassion - the opposite direction of the comfortable status quo.

A question is asked of potential Christians as they are baptized. The question lies at the core of what it means to walk in the "way" of Jesus: 

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people 
and respect the dignity of every human being?

It seems to me that you don't have to be a Christian to answer "yes" to that question, nor do you have to be a Christian to proclaim:

Thy kingdom come!

Long live the revolution!


  1. " In essence Jesus invited all who would follow in his path to be radical, subversive revolutionaries just like he was."

    Jesus' kingdom was said to not be of this world. I've heard a couple interpretations of what this kingdom is like.

    Both say the kingdom is spiritual and both mean different things by using the same words in the same context.

    For one the spiritual kingdom is a place far away, an alternate reality. A Heaven revealed in unimaginable glory befitting the outcome of a billion dollar movie scene or sci-fi extravaganza. This depiction of the kingdom is only tenable if we think of reality as being outside of and separate from ourselves. Taking this understanding we also feel alienated and separated from life and this feeling will inform us as how to experience life and expect it to end. For this group; matter, rocks, trees, water and the like are fundamental to our reality.

    The second view I heard and which I am more in favor of is informed by understanding that consciousness, not matter, is fundamental and primary to our realized experience of life.

    The notion of consciousness being fundamental and primary introduces an entirely different understanding of what the spiritual realm is. Instead of being something external with which we have to deal the spiritual realm is something we are immersed in and suffused with.

    This spiritual realm based on consciousnesses appears to create a synergistic relationship with matter.

    The 'physical realm' is comprised of the needs of others and the spiritual realm requires us to respond to these needs as if we were filling our own needs. The very things we encounter each day in our relationships are bound together with all encompassing bond of consciousness.

    I got carried away a little but this question of 'what does it mean to be spiritual?' for me it is intimately bound up with the question 'what does it mean to be human?'

    I think this understanding makes the idea of God become more agreeable to people who do not make any sense of a God far away in Heaven. Instead it is more like Paul said of living and moving and having our being in a God described by understanding reality has Consciousness as it's foundation.

    Now Christ's radical approach to government based on seeing to it that everyone's needs are met and that the only law is love is truly NOT OF THIS WORLD.

    This view is Socialist in it's political expression and as such it is unacceptable to for application to America social systems which are firmly grounded in Capitalist values. In that way the message of Christ is truly radical. If a society were ever to exist being governed by the laws of love and empathy it would stand in direct contrast to a society built by Capitalist planners.

    At that time Christians in the nation could legitimately claim persecution.

    1. I actually think Jesus would have agreed with what you call the "2nd view"

    2. Me too, it's the only view which makes sense to me and the only way I can imagine we are indeed one.