Quick Hitter: This is Not Our Project

In the last couple of weeks, I've been listening to a great podcast called Inglorious Pasterds.  The three guys who make up the show--Matt Polley, Brad Polley, and Michael Baysinger--are insightful as well as funny and irreverent in the best possible way.  It's great, and the community that has formed around it is pretty great as well.  Seriously, check them out.

Anyway, this week they had Pastor Brian Zahnd on the podcast.  My twitter friend "Egregious Philbin" turned me on to Zahnd a few months back, and his discussion on the podcast was interesting and challenging.  One of the things he said that stuck with me was, when discussing the full-throated embrace by evangelicals of Trump and the trapping of power, he said (paraphrasing a bit) that "they (i.e. evangelicals) don't see the Kingdom of God working in the world, and so they turn to political action to fix things."

I think that's right, and it is even broader than just talking about Trump or even politics.  It goes back, I think, to the idea that this entire project that is the Kingdom of God is somehow our collective project, that its success or failure rests on our shoulders.  Because if you believe that you are responsible for such a thing, for something so massive and wide-ranging, then it makes sense to use any and all resources at your disposal, no matter how unpleasant or problematic they might be.  After all, this project of ours appears to be in crisis, and so "desperate times call for desperate measures" and all that.  All of this talk of "God can use flawed people like Trump" that you hear from conservative Catholics and evangelicals is really a "church-speak" way of saying "I/We can use flawed people like Trump as tools for get this project back on track."

But the Kingdom of God is not our project--it is God's project.  We are the primary instruments by which the project comes to pass, but this is all God's show in the end.  People don't see the Kingdom of God working because they spend all of their time focusing on the things that we are doing on our own and not enough time trying to see the things that God is doing under our nose.  God's project is not in crisis because, by definition, it can't be in crisis--it is God's project, after all.  And the times that it looks to be most in crisis are very often the times when it is actually about to turn the corner into something wholly new and unexpected and wonderful.  I mean, the Kingdom of God sure looked to be heading off a cliff on Holy Saturday, right?  And we know how that turned out.

I am coming around to the idea that much of the Christian life is really about getting out of the way so that God can do what God needs to do, both in an individual sense and in a corporate sense.  More than anything else, we should be focused on not doing things that make it harder for God to effect the healing of the nations and the restoration of the world, as opposed to looking at those things as something that we are supposed to be making happen somehow through our own efforts.  When we falsely and arrogantly take on the burden of fixing everything, we create this frantic energy that usually does more harm then good.  It also puts us into a bad head-space, where we become willing to accept "trade-offs" and convince ourselves we need to make "hard choices" in order to "do what is necessary" in these "challenging times."

All of that is often a bunch of self-justifying nonsense, but we all do it.  And, by the way, it's not just conservatives in Christianity who play this game--there is a whole lot of frantic energy and talk of the need to do what is necessary in these apocalyptic times from the progressive Christian side of the ledger in the Age of Trump.  Folks on the progressive end of Christianity, and I proudly consider myself part of this tribe, who think that somehow they are immune to all of this because they are "right" or have a better theology are suffering under a dangerous delusion.  The only solution to this temptation is, to use a somewhat cliched phrase, "let go and let God."

That's not a justification for passivity or lassitude.  But it is a call to de-center ourselves, to recognize that we are not in charge here.  We cannot fix things by our own efforts, and it is a mistake to try.  We have to trust, to have faith, that God will find a way out of what might seem like no way, or at least not much way.  Bad things happen when we convince ourselves that everything rests on us.      

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