Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The Lion and the Lamb--Poached and Fried? 

The following is a working draft of an article attempting to express my belief that Christianity has less to do with Jesus being God and more to do with real-world actions that destroy or create Zionic conditions. "Zion" is Restoration-speak for what most Christians call the kingdom of God--that climate of relationships that is hinted at in Isaiah when he writes of the Lion and the Lamb laying down together, with a little child to lead them. How many of our actions are metaphorically and literally putting to death that possibility? I really want to ask:

Can there be Zion if the lamb was last-night’s veal and the lion is extinct?
By [Flannel Christian]
Seattle, WA

Undeniably, the need and fundamental call of the Restoration is to create Zionic conditions right now. If there is any common thread throughout our varied, complex, contradictory and often controversial history, it is the committed understanding that Zion must be built in this world by human hands guided by a faith that calls them to more than this world alone can inspire them to be. Our very use of the word “faith” in a Restoration context is not a thing-to-be-had but more fitting the prophetic tradition of loyalty to a principle. Our guiding principle—the object that has held our communal vision and enduring loyalty—has been articulated in the Book of Mormon and Isaiah scripture describing the changed relations of a Christ-like world: enemies become friends, oppressors and oppressed become equal, poverty and exploitation are extinguished, riches are shared by all, and there is even time to rest and enjoy the bounty that is Life. Whether we call it Joy, Hope, Love or Peace, what we’ve been talking about for the last 170 years is Zion, the kingdom of God, this brave, new world or undiscovered country where somehow the divisions and cruelties that plague us have been overcome.

What has changed through the years is our notion of how Zion will come about. It seemed that our rhetoric has always been at odds with our actions. In the early years in Kirtland, Independence and Nauvoo we spoke of Zion being established by God at some future (though imminent) date, but we worked to transform our lives and world right then to create Zionic conditions immediately. Over time, somehow, we began to speak more of this emboldening need to create (not just foster) Zionic conditions in the real world—both immediate and distant—but our individual and collective actions spoke more to the assumption that the work was really God’s to do, and that ultimately our hopes rested in some miraculous (and effortless?) transformation in the future.

As a community, we stepped back from the pressing questions of our time. Until recently, we haven’t engaged in supporting organized labor, resisting war and militarism, advocating for social services, working to limit (or even abolish) exploitation of people or the environment by the rule of profit, looking as a Community to combat the causes (not just the effects) of homelessness, hunger and poverty, explicitly calling out the un-Christian rhetoric of war-making, state-terrorism and the voracious mechanisms that undergird and are fed by it. Somewhere along the line we lost the impatience at the world failing to transform itself, and the gumption to transform it ourselves.

It seems we built the Temple just in time, and before we really realized what we were doing—answering a Call before we truly understood the scope of what we were dedicating ourselves to. But that’s the way God works—Love traps us into loving before we know everything, commits us to caring before we know how taxing that care and commitment will be. Like baptism or marriage or a new job, we commit ourselves and are called to do far more than we bargained for, and that is the true and lasting test of our faith. To what and how much are we willing to be committed?

It is very easy to sing hymns of peace in peace-time. How much more difficult is it to purposefully sing them when all around us are beating the drums of war? It is easy to stand by the right of people to health care when they’re healthy—but how much more difficult and costly is it to uphold that belief when affordable medicine and care is scarce? It is easy to support the environment in abstract—but how much more difficult when we must recognize our consumption demands are nurturing the destruction of our planet and entire nations with resources necessitated by our habits? It is easy to describe someone as evil—but how much more difficult to see how our own actions have contributed to that evil, and how the responsibility for both that someone and that evil rests in great measure with us? It is easy, in short, to smile and sigh at the vision of the Lion and the Lamb sitting together in the idyllic and far-off future—but how much more difficult is it to see our actions today as preventing or even destroying the possibilities of that vision to be realized? No one—least of all Jesus—said building Zion would be easy or convenient. But it is at the point at which it becomes inconvenient that it is supremely essential.

The Passion of Jesus serves this point excellently. It seems to me that the long, tortuous depiction of the terrible suffering of Jesus at the end of his life signals the depth of his commitment. It is difficult to imagine many ways in which his commitment to Peace and Love, and to ending exploitation, poverty and hunger could get less convenient or more uncomfortable at that point. He was humiliated, imprisoned, beaten, tortured, and painfully executed, and he could have ended it at any moment by simply recanting his words. Jesus could have shrugged and given in to the Empire at any second, and he would have been set free immediately. In fact, he wouldn’t even have had to assert anything at all—he could have gotten off with simply denying the accusations of his enemies. He surely knew what was in store for him if he didn’t! And yet, when the tire hit the road, when given the choice between fudging his commitment to really building the kingdom of God on earth and surviving on the one hand and remaining faithful to his vision of the possibility of people to live without fear or hunger or poverty and dying a cruel, prolonged death on the other hand, he still chose the latter.

How tremendously inspiring is that? The man we lift up above all others chose at the time of greatest peril to keep faith with Love and Peace. How empowered ought we feel as followers in that tradition to resist our own nation’s or culture’s or community’s march to war and vengeance and violence (no matter how dressed up in “patriotism” or “liberation” or “defense” it might be)? We truly should be at the forefront of those organizations working for Peace.

I am reminded of ________ who said you don’t realize your freedom until someone takes it away, and the degree to which to resist is the degree to which you were free. We don’t realize our commitment to Zion until the conditions of our world begin to make that commitment difficult, and the degree to which we resist is the degree to which we were working for Zion in the first place.

Everyday we are presented with opportunities—millions of times, often even without our awareness of it—to either resist or acquiesce to systems of violence and exploitation. That’s how they get us—the choices are so small we don’t think twice about making them, and so responsibility and impact is spread out, diffused, camoflauged. Oftentimes it is a choice of convenience or comfort, or the issue is muddied by self-interest or noble rhetoric. (Should I drive to the grocery store or walk? Buy the more-expensive fair-trade coffee or the discount brand? Should I vote for a tax levy for schools that my kids won’t go to? Should I spend my Saturday on a picket line for workers I don’t know?) But I think, for the most part, if we sounded those choices off the foundation that Jesus laid for us, it seems pretty clear which we ought to choose. That isn’t to say it’s easy—who has extra coffee money or a free Saturday—but that the decision is important.

Everyday we can in a thousand ways both subtle and overt contribute to or work against the creation of Zionic conditions. The choice between Zion and damnation isn’t made once-and-for-all, but every moment in a hundred little choices that act as votes and pavement for one or the other. Whether it be the environment, resources, weapons, militarism, war, wages, working conditions, hunger, homelessness, poverty, wealth, the shows we watch (if we watch TV at all) or the toys we buy our children, the choices we are given are small but essential, and ultimately almost all of them impact whether or not we have any lions or lambs left in the world, let alone little children who can lead them.

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