Embracing Exile

This article was originally written in June 2019.

Unfairness–real or perceived–gives us no platform to respond in with unfairness, unkindness, and untruthfulness.  

It has been both fascinating and frustrating over the past 12 years or so, watching presidential elections and the commentary surrounding two Obama presidencies and this most recent Trump presidency.  During Obama’s first campaign I was surprised and discouraged by much of the commentary I heard coming from Christian circles—there was clearly fear and uncertainty at work, among other things.  What I have seen and heard since Trump became President, though, has gone completely off the rails. So much of this boils down a question of the connection between state (or empire) and the Christian community.  I shake my head and, at times, feeling great remorse at the way those who carry the name of Christ speak of, and act toward, those who do not share their priorities, worldview, and faith.

Just prior to writing this I was listening to an NBA podcast and the topic of Muslim players fasting during the NBA playoffs came up.  The guest spoke for more than 20 minutes about the intricate details of Muslim faith and the decision whether or not to fast during the basketball season.  While I found it interesting, I also thought to myself, “It would have been deemed inappropriate, at best, to have had a discussion about whether NBA players ought to play basketball on Sunday, or some other discussion that would have been labeled as “Christian.”  Is it fair?  No, it’s not.  But perceived unfairness gives us no platform to respond in with unfairness, unkindness, and untruthfulness.

I am growing more and more convinced that Christianity doesn’t work well—or at least as it should—when tied with the yellow-brick-road of power.  It’s like biscuits and gravy flavored ice cream; two things that should be put together.  Could it be in America that the church has no idea how to live and work and function apart from the power, favorable legislation, and wealth that it has enjoyed for so long?  It seems to me this may be the case

“Embracing exile is not a pause in the missional purpose of God’s people. Embracing exile may, in fact, be setting God’s people free to rediscover their true mission and the powerful reasons for their divine creation in the first place.”   

Daniels, Exile, Kindle location 1218

My biggest concern and question for the church in America today goes something like this—if our attempts to maintain some semblance of Christendom in our national power and legislative structures become our mission and purpose, do we only end up looking like the bullhorn brigade outside the Rose Bowl? 

Do these efforts please God, or do we do more damage than good to our witness?

Are we losing our saltiness and snuffing our these little lights of ours?

Is our primary purpose to uphold and defend the Kingdom of American and its perceived Christian roots and ideals, or is our mission to live out the “alternative way ” of the Kingdom of God in our world no matter what the political, social, and economic climate? 

No doubt, some have trouble distinguishing between the two Kingdoms, but Jesus was clear, “No one can serve two masters”  (Mat 6:24).

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This article was originally presented in a class and was responded to by other students.  I have reproduced a few of those responses below:

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Response from K:  “I’m just trying to sin as little as possible before I can go to heaven.” This disposition, while on the surface could be seen as righteous, has damaging consequences on mission and witness when people begin to think, for example that there is no point in working if this will only get worse until it all burns.

You pointed out clearly how this affects eschatology, ecclesiology, and soteriology.  Each of these have a clear connection to the way we live in this world and the way the church carries out its mission.  Thank you for the clear reminder.

          My response to K:  Thank you, K, for this great response.  Like you, I appreciate the message of hope conveyed by Daniels that is appropriate for all believers in every place at all times, regardless of how we interpret the metaphor of “exile” used in this book. In Genesis we also see the reality of the human dilemma and, by extension, the reality of the church; that is, all the good that God created was changed drastically by this thing we call sin.  The perfect paradise of Eden was no longer.  The perfect Shalom between God and humanity, and between Adam and Eve (and by extension all humanity) was broken.  The world is not as it should be…and this is the world where we live and breath…this is the context of our lives. 

It’s not perfect.  It’s not right.  It’s not fair.  We are in exile from Eden, so to speak, and always have been.  But there is hope; a hope that cannot and will not be quenched.

          Follow-up reply from K :  I am amazed at how often in the last 10 months the story of Genesis has come to meet me in the study of his word.  As I have the opportunity to lead women’s ministries the word “believe” has been the pinnacle in planning and preparations.  It started with studying Genesis 3, Eve was presented the first question in scripture: “Did God really say?”  I believe that is the question the enemy used first and it has been his gaming question since. 

In this book, Embracing Exile, Daniels mentions the importance of imagination .  It can be used for our good or our harm.  When the enemy gets us to imagine that what God says isn’t really true then we are in trouble. Eve doubted and sin entered the world and every time we doubt what God really says we open up the opportunity for the gap (separation) of the broken humanity to pull us away from the path to which we are called.   

Women are so good about forgetting, or just not believing, what God really does say about them. Of course, it’s not just women who have this problem!  The enemy was able to get Eve’s imagination off track even in the “perfect paradise of Eden” that you mention.  Adam proved himself to be no better.  How much more is the struggle to not truly believe what God has said in our broken world that is not at all what it was designed to be.

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