A Travellerspoint blog

#13: The Kingdom of God

Heaven on Earth...

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Kingdom of God. Noun. Christ’s mediatorial authority, or his rule on earth.

One night our group took an adventure. We rode an outbound tram to the most modern yet regal movie theaters I had ever seen. It. Was. Huge. Unfortunately, the sole movies that were in English had already begun or looked ultra sketchy. We decided to head back to the hotel instead. I’m sure we found either Monty Python or some hilarious YouTube videos when we got back.

On the way from the theater to our tram stop we walked by a river. It was rather full of algae and other exciting, unearthly creatures, much like our lake back at school. It looked like it was originally the site of beautiful postcard images, with high brick walls built on the sides, leading down to river’s edge. The sky began to emit a light drizzle, and we quickened our pace to outsmart an impending storm. As the group hurried towards the enclosed tram stop, a few lingered behind, transfixed on something peculiar. Ever the curious one, I retraced my steps and peered over the brick ledge to see what was worthy of being spit upon by the heavens.

This was what I saw.

I am not sure what drove this magnificent swan to live in such a swampy dump, but the image hit me somewhere below the collar bone.

Is this not the image of the kingdom of God? Is this not a picture of Christ, and his expectations for us? Is this not a picture of the Gospel?

We humans are in a pile of rubbish on our own, called sin. We are stuck. Any attempt to get out on our own results in failure. We need someone from the outside, someone who has not been polluted, to reach in and pull us out. This is what Jesus did. And yet, while Jesus did come and die, that was not all He did. He came and redeemed. And He did so incarnate. He came close, even at the risk of His own reputation and physical well-being.

The kingdom of God is not perfection. It is a place of pain, suffering, and some remaining garbage which God is in the process of removing. It is spoken of in Scripture as having such worth, because it is priceless. Nothing human can redeem us. Only Christ can. He sacrificed His life and paid with His blood.

For us to bring the kingdom of God to earth, we must be willing to be like Jesus. We must be willing to be like this swan. We cannot remain in our sterile worlds living good lives and never risking anything. To love is to risk. God is a God of love and redemption. Jesus came to bring healing to the broken and life to the dying. He did not come so that we could live good lives while others endure pain.

Often, when we think of those in need, we envision bread lines trailing out the doors of inner-city shelters. Yet God has called us to love our neighbor. And our neighbor could be anyone. One group of people in need is immigrants. These are beautiful individuals who have come into the country seeking rest and solace. They have come to pursue dreams, or to seek sanctuary, or to reunite with family. Yet we often don an anti-outsider hat when we consider immigration. We fear that the economy will plummet or that our hard-earned tax money will be taken advantage of. We think of them in terms of liability rather than in terms of love.

We do the same to the homeless, to plummeting school districts, to single mothers, to the elderly, to people of different faith backgrounds. We fail to see them as broken individuals made in God’s image. We fail to stand by their sides, even if doing so means jumping into the mess of their lives. But if we don’t help them, how will they get out? Injustice isn’t choosey, but those who can choose to stay out of its nets do so.

To help the other, we must be like this swan. We may not maintain our pristine reputation, pocketbook, or agenda, but we will be bringing the kingdom of God – redemption – to our world.

Posted by klewis91 22:25 Tagged strasbourg Comments (0)

#16: Secularization

Misshapen priorities...

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sec•u•lar•ize [sek-yuh-luh-rahyz]

verb: to make secular; separate from religious or spiritual connection or influences; make worldly or unspiritual; imbue with secularism; to transfer (property) from ecclesiastical to civil possession or use.
This is the church in which Pascal (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blaise_Pascal) is buried, Saint-Étienne-du-Mont. It is but a stone’s throw from Panthéon, Paris. I had the privilege of visiting perhaps a dozen chapels and cathedrals in France. Each one was beautiful. Unique. Each one contained statues of disciples, martyrs, and saints. Each used window glass, marble, and wood to tell the story of the Gospel.

Yet entering them today, in the age of tolerance, something seems to be missing from these houses of God. I sat in one cathedral for over an hour one day. A religious service was taking place, yet a stream of tourists waddled through, snapping flash photographs of the magnificent architecture. Some paused as they entered, taking in the immediate awe of such a structure. Others hustled through more quickly, just as they’d explore the Louvre or a book shop, consuming with their eyes art created for God Almighty. They ignored the impoverished begging on the church steps. To them, the cathedral was a building.

The Church is a body. The body of believers. The crumbling of cathedrals, spiritually, is a result of far too many years of a church that isn’t the Church.

The Constantinian Settlement can be argued as a hindrance or as a cornerstone to western society. This move bound Christianity with government, religion with politics. It certainly allowed Christianity to quickly spread throughout Europe, but it also left a bitter taste in the commoner’s mouth. For religion and government, bound together, became a sovereign power which was able to manipulate words from God to maintain control. The central powers of Church and State abused their powers, claiming divine favor on their decrees.

There is little wonder why many in Europe now resist religion. They see the power that the Church once held. They see radical Muslims claim lives for their cause. They see the results of the Crusades. They are turned off to religion, viewing cathedrals mainly as tourist traps. Churches have been secularized.

And yet, should this be viewed only as a terrible incident? Is there no good in this paradigm shift? Do Christians want to be associated with a building, when we are a body? So much has turned bitter in the name of God. We have blasphemed the name of Christ in the world. Perhaps we should look at our hearts, particularly in America, where the church is often full of pride rather than poverty, conceit rather than compassion, arrogance rather than authenticity.

We assume that because we are sons of the King, we can behave as royal pains. No, we are called to love. Our relationship with God is not a religion. It is not a political agenda. It is love.

Posted by klewis91 12:37 Comments (0)

#15: Religion

Seeing the outcast...

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re•li•gion [ri-lij-uhn]

noun: a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

I sat on the wooden chair, Bible and journal in hand, as the organist pounded the keys, sending otherworldly music into the massive cathedral. The notes rickashayed off the ceilings, off the arches, off the stained glass, and landed in my ears. A pause in the music allowed me to hear the shuffle-shuffle-shuffle of European, Asian, and American tourist feet behind me, and the plink-plink-plink of coins dropping into boxes to buy candles that would carry prayers heavenward. A small orchestra began in the front, followed by a chant, likely in Latin, which I could not understand. I turned my attention back to my journal, where I penned these words:

“In this cathedral, my eyes are drawn upward. I see the high ceilings and sink into my smallness, acknowledging my complete humanity…. May the people coming here see God – a just yet loving God. I see mostly European people, but some from other cultures as well. We are all part of a larger whole, yet in the West we see God in ways different than the rest of the world. We offer God our best, giving him big cathedrals and money, driven by our materialistic cultural ideals. Rather than offering our simplicity, as some people groups do, integrating faith into life, we’ve segregated daily life from religion, not seeing the beggar sitting on the steps leading to the cathedral. We’ve divided our life – our living and doing religion. We believe we are in a relationship, not a religion, and that we live both simultaneously. Yet, be this true, some religions do a far better job integrating their beliefs into daily life. We struggle, as American Christians, to divide culture and Christianity. Because we can’t divide these, we merge the two and struggle to put our faith into action. We go through the motions, out of convenience or out of ease, rather than out of true belief. We go for feelings over facts, or facts over feelings, and struggle to merge the two.”

Just outside the door of the cathedral, a magnificent medieval church known as the Notre Dame of Strasbourg, several beggars sat, palms open and eyes down. Hundreds of visitors passed them each day, barely giving them a glance. I did the same thing. But then God got a hold of my heart, slapping me across the face. Here I was in France, taking a class about how to love the “other,” and I was completely ignoring those Jesus favored most during his earthly ministry. I thought back to the homelessness simulation experience I had participated in a few months before, about how I had felt after being ignored and harassed because of uncontrollable conditions.

How wrong I was. I had gone into a cathedral, looking to understand the greatness of God, when the kingdom of God was sitting just outside the door. Jesus said that “whatever you did for the least of these, you have done as unto me.”

There is an engraving on the front of the real Notre Dame that is a picture of judgment day. On some of the figures, Jesus looks on approvingly. To the others, he allows devilish creatures to pull them away to eternal punishment. The engraving rests on the story in Matthew 25:31-46 about the sheep and the goats. Those who served the poor were led to eternal life, and those who ignored the needy were led to eternal death. It wasn’t a matter of works verses faith, but the idea that if God’s love is in us, it will work through us on behalf of the afflicted.

The builders of the cathedral had included incredible detail, working with the philosophy that if no one else could see it, God would. Centuries later, however, I wonder what God thinks. Sure, they had done their work for God, but today, as a tourist trap, were people so caught up in the details that they had forgotten the Gospel? Had they gotten so caught up in seeing a structure that they missed seeing the people? Do we, as American Christians, get so caught up in church that we forget how to be the church? Do we get so caught up in religion that we are unable to love?

“I prefer painting people’s eyes to cathedrals, for there is something in the eyes that is not in the cathedral, however solemn and imposing the latter may be -- a human soul, be it that of a poor beggar or of a street walker, is more interesting to me.” Picasso

Posted by klewis91 06:27 Archived in France Comments (0)

#8: France

A beautiful culture...

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frans, frahns; Fr. frahns]
noun

a republic in W Europe. 58,470,421; 212,736 sq. mi. (550,985 sq. km). Capital: Paris.

In France, a walk down one block will produce a plethora of delightful culinary options. Last week a few friends and I took a break from visiting the touristy sights of Paris and opted instead to sit at a café and watch locals and tourists. We browsed the decadent display of desserts, and my eyes landed on this delight. As the French diet is carb-rich, I was excited to see some raspberries atop the towering layers of sweetness.

As we sat, we observed the activity of the street. We were on a walking path that was evidently a tourist hotspot, just a few blocks from the Eiffel Tower, yet there were several locals milling about as well. I feel bad for tourists. We go into a country, usually lacking a solid linguistic background, and wanting for our every desire to be catered to by a culture that is worlds apart from our own. We go as consumers, wanting, wanting, wanting.

One thing I wanted was to be able to smile at others. Alex, our BCA contact in Strasbourg, told us that the French don’t smile at strangers. Smiles mean something. They mean something? It took me two weeks to understand what this meant. In the States, a smile is gesture of acknowledgement, a means of welcoming others or showing approval. In the States, or at least on my college campus, smiling at others is a natural part of the culture. For the first week I had to force myself to not be too friendly with those around me, knowing it was rude but not knowing why.

But now, I think it makes more sense. A friend as well as a book entitled “A Xenophobe’s Guide to the French” helped me out. My friend explained it in the terms of saying “I love you.” We don’t throw the phrase “I love you” around lightly. At least I don’t. I reserve it for those people who are especially special to me. To say it to anyone on the street would be to cheapen the phrase.

The French are a private people and are very loyal to their friends. Breaking into their cultural is difficult. It’s not so because they are rude or cold, but because of their strong loyalty to each other. They value their relationships, and to throw around gestures suggesting friendliness or intimacy to people they haven’t meant is to cheapen their relationships.

I think of how we smile at others in the States. It’s a kind gesture, and I’m not saying we should start walking around with blank stares and solemn lips. But I appreciate France’s value for other people. The French value their private lives, and to break in is to cheapen their loyalty. Sometimes, smiles in the States seem so artificial. In France, smiles hold value. I appreciate this idea of valuing people. We in the States of course value people; we just express it differently.

Something else about the French is their value of quality. In France, dinner at a restaurant can last for up to three hours or more. Waiters don’t rush patrons out the door. The food preparation isn’t rushed, either. The food is based on quality rather than quantity. For example, this pastry, which I ate at the aforementioned café, would have taken much preparation. There are several thin, flaky layers as well as thick, creamy layers that compose one individual pastry. The time that goes into creating such a piece, one which takes but minutes to consume, impacts me. The meticulous attention to detail seems in contrast to America’s fast-paced, consumerist society that values quantity.

France in general is beautiful. From cathedrals to cobble stones, every piece seems to have been places where it has been placed for aesthetic purposes. In France, even the pigeons take on a magical, mysterious quality.

Besides beauty and loyalty, France also reflects its national values of liberty, equality, and fraternity. Staying in our Paris residence, which shared its space with HandiSport, an athletic group for individuals with mobility needs, I saw the pride held by the French. They value their freedom and independence. I enjoyed seeing the pride the men and women had, the men and women who, unfortunately, would likely be less revered in the States than in France due to their hindered mobility. Some were in wheel chairs and others used walkers, yet they all carried with them the knowledge that they were on equal footing with people who used no walking aids.

In summary, I believe that France can be summed up with this photo. France is a beautiful country which values quality in its food, architecture, artwork, and relationships. French individuals have several layers to them and take a long time to get to know deeply. They value equality, loyalty, and freedom.

Posted by klewis91 04:23 Comments (0)

#11: Human Rights

Taking the time to see the one...

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human rights 
noun fundamental rights, especially those believed to belong to an individual and in whose exercise a government may not interfere, as the rights to speak, associate, work, etc.

Over the past few days I’ve visited several amazing art museums – museums of impressionist art, modern art, and renaissance art – and seen incredible sculptures, paintings, and sketches. I spent hours -- an entire day – in the Louvre on Monday. I’ve felt like I’ve lived in a painted whirlwind. Seeing so many paintings has been wonderful, but flying through the paintings is…difficult.

I doubt that art was created to be sped through. Art is created to make one sit and ponder life and choose to live differently. It’s not mere aesthetics; it’s philosophy and religion. It’s a declaration for change as much as a reflection of reality. It’s dreaming. It’s proclaiming. So to fly through so many beautiful museums filled with awe-inspiring artwork has been dizzying.

I have decided that I would rather sit and enjoy one work of art than speed through a museum without much more than a glance at a painting, unless it’s been done by a great artist such as Picasso, Monet, or Van Gough. Each painting tells a story, and each story has something for us to learn.

Like paintings, so too do people have stories. If we spent the time to sit and listen to their stories instead of speeding past at blazing speeds, I suspect that our hearts would be softened rather than calloused by the needs of others. In our current world, it is easy to grow used to the pain of the world. Browsing the news, one reads dozens of stories about human tragedy. The human heart naturally flees from pain, so someone seeing so much hurt will usually experience pain or apathy. The first will result in paralysis or action. The second results in emotional numbness.

Statistics ensure numbness, whereas personal contact, time, and investment penetrate the heart and spark revolution.

If we want to change the world, if we want to speak up for humanity, we must look at the individual rather than the group. While populations are important, moreso are persons. I am more moved by talking to one student about their personal struggles and home life than when I consider the needs of all of my students collectively. Numbers overwhelm, but relationships give us personal connection and motivation.
Human rights imply depending individuals. It’s about defending the voiceless when the seas of injustice bellow against their cries. How easily we can crush the weak, simply because we hold that we, collectively, are more important than one.

Yet when we think about God’s love for one person, we’re blown away by human value. To allow someone – anyone – be tramped on by another, we’re allowing a human being, created in God’s image, to be dehumanized. To be human is to be fearfully and wonderfully made. God knew of us before our conception. He placed us in a particular time and space for a reason. He put us there for His glory. He created us with purpose. To steal someone’s dignity is to dehumanize them and to therefore refuse their divine reflection.

God, like a painter, took time on each human being. He carefully planned and created each unique individual. Each person has a story, drafted and edited by the Author and Perfecter of Life. Together, the world seems to have an overwhelming amount of issues to be redeemed. But when we encounter individuals, we will feel more compelled to act on their behalves.

Posted by klewis91 02:31 Comments (0)

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