Six years ago I moved into a neighborhood very different than my neighborhood in the Spokane Valley. I had almost never dealt with drugs, violence, racism, crime, poverty or the police. Now I deal with these realities almost weekly.
I had never experienced murder close to my home and I had never had to deal with violent intruders or meth addicts on my property or trying to break into my home in the early morning hours. I had been a youth pastor for multiple decades and had never been threatened with death by a young person. But all that changed after moving to East Central Spokane.
These six years have tested, exposed and revealed my religious idealism, political shortsightedness and unthoughtful and illogical theology. And more than anything else, the depths of my human heart and it's idolatries.
One of the gifts of living in between the hammer and the anvil of this place has been the realization that faith has to make sense on the streets. Philosophical arguments about Greek words, places and times fall flat on the ground when confronted with blood, beasts and brokenness.
I have had to find a way of living my faith that is rooted in the realities of life, not the aspirations or fantasies of religious platitudes. I see this played out in the blue collar context of work, sex, addictions, family, forgiveness, abuse, injustice and dysfunction. The parasitic nature of sin isn't a mere cold with sniffles and upset tummies but steals, kills and destroys!
The tensions between the Kingdom that is coming and the Kingdom come are played out in maddening shades of perplexing possibilities and impossibilities. Learning to deal with fact in faith, has forced me to reexamine my understanding of love.
I see Jesus talking straight to his disciples in the beginning of his time with them on mission and then before he was leaving them. Both ministry imperatives were valid in their time and place. Jesus showed us in bold displays the vision of the coming age and through His Spirit and grace we can even taste of the powers of the age to come (Hebrews 6:5). We are to pray and work towards such a Kingdom life, sowing seeds of future bloom, but we must face the realities of all that is of this world as we labor for the next to emerge. I think much confusion comes when workers cannot clearly communicate or understand what is expected of them in the here and now before the return of Jesus.
Don't Prepare: Luke 9:1-6
When Jesus had called the twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.
Do Prepare: Luke 22:35-38
Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you out to preach the Good News and you did not have money, a traveler’s bag, or an extra pair of sandals, did you need anything?” “No,” they replied. “But now,” he said, “take your money and a traveler’s bag. And if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one!For the time has come for this prophecy about me to be fulfilled: ‘He was counted among the rebels.’ Yes, everything written about me by the prophets will come true.” “Look, Lord,” they replied, “we have two swords among us.” “That’s enough,” he said.
I've read all kinds of theological gymnastics about the simple command to 'buy a sword', explanations that often make no sense in my neighborhood. People can understand preparing for the unknown, saving money, packing for the unforeseen weather and facing the dangers of life. Faith isn't fanaticism, it's not stupidity or illogical. It's wisdom and love worked out in day to day life. It's doing the best you can to do what is right in the moments you are faced with every day. It's not white ivory tower games of trying to solve labyrinthine moral impossibilities.
Jesus deflated all that religious game playing and moralizing quandaries that religious communities drift towards. The hyper navel gazing and sifting of gnats and swallowing of camels is the sphere of the whitey-tighties who have not been stained by the dirtiness of life, a problem not often shared by the folks on the other side of the tracks.
The longer I live in the crux of the chaos and the cross, the more I find that the way of Jesus isn't meant to bind men and women but loose them. Living in a world of legalities produces a mode of living that becomes constipated, self-righteous and fails to handle the truth of life as it is vs as it should or could be.
The way of Jesus decreases darkness but the day isn't here and until that time. We had better prepare people to live wise as serpents but gentle as doves, among wolves as sheep for sure, but none of that means don't be prepared for life.
It means deal with life with a heart and mind to do the best you can with the days you have. Be bold and courageous but don't be dumb. Work as you pray for daily bread, raise cotton and sew clothes but don't worship fashion, make love and not war but protect your kids. Save for the future but don't trust in your wealth to save you. Elect godly men and women but serve The King first and foremost. Pray for healing but stop eating Twinkies and drinking soda pop. Live like the birds of the air and prepare for the winter like ants.
Build a day to day relationship with others based on how you would want treated yourself, this is a way, truth and life I can follow.
This is why I own a sword — not sure if it would do any good in a fight but if it's biblical literalism that's the sign of a good follower of Jesus's words, than I am trying to comply.