Monday, September 19, 2011

Are you in the correct lane? Part 3

Several years ago a race was run at the Special Olympics. As the runners made their way around the track, one of the competitors stumbled and fell. The other runners stopped and went back to the fallen runner, helped him up, and together they ran the remainder of the race and crossed the finish-line.

Those Olympians were truly special and certified champions; they all deserved gold medals; for they understood the kingdom of heaven probably better than anyone else has, including me. Indeed, they should be writing this blog instead of me.

We have been discussing authentic humanity, how it involves individuals with unique identities. But we must be careful not to overstate this. We humans have a penchant for swinging pendulums to the extremes. Authentic human beings are individuals with unique identities, but they are unified in a community—the kingdom of heaven—without annihilating those identities.

As we have shown, the kingdom of heaven diverges radically from the various systems promoting assimilation. However, the kingdom of heaven is also decidedly not a model for the rugged individualism fundamental to American political philosophy.

The American political paradigm is the best in the world, but it isn’t perfect. Thanks to philosophers such as John Locke who had more than incidentally influenced its inception, America has exaggerated the importance of the individual.

Unfortunately, these Lockean concepts have insinuated their way into the Christian church, such that we saw the rise of spot-conversions during the nineteenth century. Instead of focusing on becoming disciples, as Jesus commanded in His great commission, people (not all people responding to the Gospel message) have tended to view the transaction as just another box checked off their to-do list. This individualistic approach to Christianity has festered into an unhealthy self-interest all too prevalent in the American church today.

Of course, Jesus came to restore the individual. This is a great and glorious and unfathomable act of God in His Love for us. But the restoration of the individual is only a part of God’s intent to restore the kingdom of heaven and, ultimately, the cosmos—the Glory of God manifested through His Glory (yes, that’s right: God’s Glory—who He is in power and faithfulness—is manifested in His Glory that is the vast growing fabric that is the kingdom of heaven.)

What happens in a society based on rugged individualism is everyone attempts to promote and distinguish themselves above everyone else. Surprisingly, both a unity in purpose and the true distinctions of identities are lost. The best--and I use this superlative loosely--outcome will be a unity of kind because everyone becomes grasping, jealous, suspicious, greedy, resentful, and on and on. In short, everyone becomes competitive.

I’m the first to enjoy a good football game. I’m very competitive, myself, especially when it comes to the game of Scrabble; they don’t call me the crusher for nothing. Competition is certainly the driving force of capitalism, of which I have reaped benefits for myself and my family; I have been very fortunate. Even though competition drives our world, it is not what drives the kingdom of heaven.

God created us to be a kingdom with Him, where we work through, by, and for Him to, maintain and grow the universe He created. We accomplish this by knowing and acting in accord with our true identities through the grace that God provides. When we do this, competition ceases because we are content in who we are and each of us celebrates who the next person is, and together as a community we accomplish God purposes; we become a unity of purpose—a community—while preserving our unique identities.

We could all stand to learn this from those special Olympians. They all ran the race, and together they each did their part. And they all won the race—something was built, improved, healed and revealed that day--because they completed it together without compromising who they each were as individuals. They were authentic human beings. And they demonstrated for us in very simple clear terms the kingdom of God.


Jeff said...

Amen Bruce! The American system is the least unsuccessful system because it is set up to channel selfish individualism towards the betterment of us all. If I want to get rich I produce a product everyone else wants to buy - everybody gains. If I break the rules I get punished (more often than not). In God's kingdom, there is no need to channel selfishness for the greater good because my "individualness" is fully integrated into the greater good! Your talents are a part of me and my talents are a part of you; they all spring from God and they all celebrate eternally!

sara said...

well said....i love that story of the Special Olympians...a beautiful picture to inspire us to keep running the race in love and grace as Kingdom dwellers here and now...
love you running with you!!!

Anonymous said...

Yes, I love this story from so many aspects, but the image of all the racers stopping, rallying around the fallen runner and helping them get back on their feet and running with them is touching. How strong and fruitful the church would be if it did that for their own.

God's richest blessings on you.