Yesterday I wrote that Brian D. McLaren's new book was, in all truth, a very simple book. This is a book that has been written over and over through the ages, a story that was handed down orally first, then committed to paper. It is the story of creation & the creator, the why and the so what.
There are two core questions that have always challenged those who follow God:
- What are the world’s biggest problems?
- What does God say to those problems?
McLaren follows God in a Jesus way, so he looks for what God is saying through the message, ministry, teachings & the acts of Jesus.
McLaren makes some choices about how to organize and present what he perceives as the world's biggest problems, attempting to hone them down to 3 core causes or systems. Over the next 3 posts, I want to briefly review these systems.
The first system that McLaren discusses is the prosperity system. One of the unifying goals of the globe is the pursuit of an abundance of items of economic value, or the state of controlling or possessing these items - this encompasses money, real estate, people and personal property. In this book, McLaren adds his hand to the alarm bell that many have rung, pointing out there is
“an emerging global economic system that burns resources & produces wastes at rates our planet can not sustain …causing great human suffering & threatening our survival”
Rather than fall into the conservative/liberal frame of why this is taking place and what it means for capitalism, McLaren stays focussed on the central reality: the means by which we strive to prosper on this planet are not sustainable.
There are countless examples of the way in which this pursuit is not sustainable - for many, it is as easy or as painful as looking out your own window. An example that moved me recently was when blogger Andrew Sullivan recently posted on the newly ice-free Northwest passage in the Arctic:
The news about the arctic polar ice is staggering to me. My own view of climate change has shifted over the years I've been writing this blog from mild skepticism to something much more like active concern. It's the feedback loops of global warming that have emerged in these years as something we didn't fully expect and something that could accelerate the problem dramatically. Here's an alarming report:
From their camp on Melville Island last July, where they recorded air temperatures over 20ºC (in an area with July temperatures that average 5ºC), the team watched in amazement as water from melting permafrost a meter below ground lubricated the topsoil, causing it to slide down slopes, clearing everything in its path and thrusting up ridges at the valley bottom "that piled up like a rug," says Dr. Lamoureux, an expert in hydro-climatic variability and landscape processes. "The landscape was being torn to pieces, literally before our eyes. A major river was dammed by a slide along a 200-metre length of the channel. River flow will be changed for years, if not decades to come."
Comparing this summer's observations against aerial photos dating back to the 1950s, and the team's monitoring of the area for the past five years, the research leader calls the present conditions "unprecedented" in scope and activity.
What fascinated me was not how McLaren framed this problem, but rather the manner is which he stayed with it as something that God and all of us care about passionately. He channels some of the energy that a woman who blogs at the Feminary picks up when she recently wrote:
"The address of the kingdom of God is the here and now. The Kingdom is now or never."
Given this crisis in the prosperity system, McLaren does not suggest that Jesus calls us to unplug the system or wallow in guilt. Instead, he suggests that Jesus calls us:
“to seek the common good, not simply the selfish interests of our ego, family, religion, race, nation or species “
The common good only makes sense if we are living in a kingdom of God that is here and now, not some getaway vacation after our death. If all of this is only rehearsal or a life-long exam, then the common good is an altruistic after-thought, an extra credit assignment that we rarely get to.
At the core of McLaren's new book is an invitation that he returns to, like a jazz player coming back to a riff or a painter giving herself over to a stroke of the brush. That invitation is to join a revolution of hope:
“one that offers good news for both the living and dying, that speaks of God’s grace at work both in this life and the life to come, that speaks both to individuals and to societies and to the planet as a whole”
If we choose to join this revolution of hope, then working to answer the crisis in the prosperity system is just as natural as prayer or worship, all of it part and parcel of re-membering the message, ministry, teachings & the acts of Jesus.