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Being the age that I am, and having the musical sensibilities that I have, I just don’t think there has been a good rock song written since about 1987. But there’s something catchy about the chorus of that R.E.M. song (here’s how bad I am…I had to look up the band…I couldn’t find the year…it may have been written within my era for all I know).
The end of the world as we know it. I know the message of the song is pretty frightening, but the line itself–which is about the only lucid line in the whole song!–actually gives me hope. I wish it were true. I think it was the end of that world that Jesus came to teach–and the beginning of the kingdom of God as something completely new.
What I haven’t quite figured out, although I believe it’s true, is how we live in the kingdom, the new world, right now. I think Brian McLaren has one aspect of it right–it’s our responsibility to live in peace right where we are. There is no other realistic way to effect peace. “Peace talks” don’t work. The world is not peaceful. “Peace lives” might do it.
What else can we do? I would suggest that we have our priorities backwards in our faith communities. We try to “save ’em” first and only then are we willing to help people to some extent. But I think Jesus gave us a different example. He took care of the most basic needs of people first. This idea is nothing new. But how we act on it might be. If we chose to organize our communities of faith around the basic human needs of people first, and then followed with worship and teaching as the second tier, things might be different.
What does that look like? I actually have more questions than answers here. I think a few things need to be considered. As a start, we could focus our action, teaching, thinking, even conversation on helping others rather than improving our own spiritual selves.
At a recent gathering, I met a young woman who is living in “intentional community”–the post-modern version of monastic living. Her question for the group–although we never really had a chance to pursue it–was “Why is it so hard to succeed in intentional community?” I listened to her explain the difficulties she experiences in the home she inhabits with several other very young people. Their main focus is spiritual growth. She claimed that they were committed to serving their neighborhood, but the reality did not seem to bear that commitment out.
And there, I would say, is the solution to her problem. They are so self-focused, so group-focused, they have completely lost sight of the fact that they live in a neighborhood where people may need real help.
As do I. As do you.
So the advice I would give to this little girl and her friends would be to stop worrying about their own spirituality and begin looking around them at the real needs they could address. And it is the advice I am giving myself as we begin this new adventure of faith in community. And it is the advice I would give churches and believers of all kinds. The kingdom of heaven is only partly about preaching and largely about doing good, living in peace, loving our neighbor. What a challenge!
What will the world look like after it ends?