Redeemed for Resilience
David R. Weiss – March 2, 2019
The Gospel in Transition #13 – Subscribe at www.davidrweiss.com
This week’s post further introduces the notion of being “redeemed for resilience,” but before we turn to that I need explain a bit about why both parts of that claim might catch many who identify with the Christian tradition off guard. I ended my last post asserting that there are surprising resonances between key insights of the Transition movement and the Jesus story and the early church as glimpsed in Acts and Paul’s epistles. I called these touch points “surprising” because the church that nearly all of us know is on this side of Constantine.
Although Constantine’s “conversion” to Christianity and the subsequent “conversion” of Christianity to the imperial religion of the Roman Empire makes for a complicated tale, the basic shift is pretty clear. Over the course of the fourth century, Christianity transformed itself from a faith that lived at the edges of society—and quite set off from political power (at times persecuted by it)—to a religion at ease with … and entangled with the dominant political power … and invested in its preservation and expansion.
It’s hard to overstate this shift. Both the initial pitch and dynamic of the gospel message are aimed at those who live—and die—at the edge of power. In the wake of Jesus’ historical ministry, the early church, while clearly beset by its own internal struggles over the role of women, the embrace of the Gentiles, and a host of other topics, nevertheless distinguished itself as a Spirit-driven movement. From Constantine onward the Spirit was increasingly domesticated—hobbled would be accurate.
Those with political power typically regard religion as an asset to be used to their benefit. And from Emperor Constantine to President Trump this has most often meant using “Christianity” to unite nations and baptize patriotism (often alongside colonizing or otherwise suppressing “others”). The unity and the patriotism are shaped by the values of the dominant powers of the day and rarely reflect the gospel values of Jesus. And the more thoroughly such “Christianity” is interwoven with the dominant culture that supports that dominant political power, the more we all become … docile. And while you likely won’t find “docile” listed as an antonym to “resilient” in your thesaurus (I checked mine), it’s close enough. If resilience is what we need, docility is what we can’t afford.
This isn’t to say that threads of the initial Jesus’ movement haven’t found their way forward past Constantine. They have. But post-Constantine the most authentic expressions of the gospel dynamic are often relegated to the exceptional. Reserved for the domain of personal piety, “radical” communities (whether convent, monastery, commune, or even cult), or, in moderation, congregations.
But what if we were redeemed … for resilience? What if the commission to carry the gospel to the ends of the Earth was less (or not at all!) about savings souls for Jesus and more (or entirely!) about helping to unleash the power of the gospel to humanize societies and to harmonize them with ecosystems around the globe? Hint: that’s where I’m putting all my chips.
Redeemed. Christian vocabulary is loaded with land mines. And while the twin attics of Christian history and theology display remarkable diversity, common understandings are often unhelpfully narrow. I don’t mean, “redeemed from our sins”—especially not where “sins” is reduced to rule-breaking that buys us a one-way ticket to damnation unless we’re somehow “redeemed.” No. When I say, “redeemed,” I mean something much less and much more.
Much less in that I’m not talking about some supernatural transaction that plays out across the scope of eternity; I’m talking about having our worldview “bought back,” re-directed at the rather mundane level of daily life. Much more in that I actually believe THIS is what Jesus intended: a “re-purchasing” of our imagination and our actions such that we honor the image of God in our neighbors and the dignity of creation all around us. Much more in that this is redemption that bears fruit here and now, which happens to be not only where we most need it, but also where God most desires it.
Resilience. Recall that Rob Hopkins, co-founder of the Transition movement, describes resilience as the capacity “to withstand shock and then adapt … to think on one’s feet in any given situation.” But he adds that even more than this, resilience is able to meet shock/threat “as an opportunity to step forward and engage … in a positive and creative way.”
I have sometimes described “faith” to my students as NOT the set of beliefs we hold but the internal-intuitive posture (trusting, fearful, cynical, judgmental, etc.) with which we lean into life. That faith/posture is both birthed and fostered by the beliefs, practices, biases, and experiences at play around us. In this sense, resilience is a faith/posture cultivated to meet the world in the midst of its acknowledged threats nonetheless grounded in trust. Not a naïve trust that everything will just somehow work out, but a more gritty trust that somehow—as a community of people (beginning at the most local levels) we can make choices that move us in the direction of living harmoniously on a finite planet. That’s resilience.
And at its authentic heart, Christianity is a story with the power to redeem us for resilience, to reshape our worldview decisively—redemptively—such that (among other things) we turn from living off the world to living in/with the world. And we make this “turn” with such vitality and joy that words like “born again” (John 3:1-8) or “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:16-20) are legitimate hyperbole.
Last fall, on the tenth anniversary of its arrival in the U.S., two Transition movement leaders identified several of its core insights as these: (1) to enliven imagination in a political-economic-cultural system designed to shut it down; (2) to tap into deep agency, both as individuals and as local communities; (3) to reclaim and share the very earthbound skills required in this moment; and (4) to do these things without waiting for permission from the “governing” (political, corporate, and cultural) forces around us.
In the coming weeks I’ll explore each insight as it has echoes in Christianity. I’ll argue that not only Jesus’ parables and teaching but also the early church’s use of language, imagery, and ritual are precisely efforts to enliven imagination in a political-economic-cultural system designed to shut it down. I’ll assert that Jesus’ commissioning of disciples and Paul’s call to exercise “bold speech” on behalf of the gospel both seek to tap into deep agency, both as individuals and as local communities. I’ll suggest that Jesus’ teaching about “the least of these” (among others) as well as the portrait of the early church found in both Acts and Paul’s letters in a certain sense anticipate the need to reclaim and share the very earthbound skills required in this moment. And I’ll propose that both Jesus’ ministry and Paul’s vision for the church are rife with invitations to do these things without waiting for permission from the “governing” (political, corporate, and cultural) forces around us.
Next week we begin by looking at Jesus and the early church as an exercise in enlivening our imagination. I hope you’ll be back.
PS: I’ve set up a Patreon site to help fund my work in this area. I hope you’ll invest in my thinking and writing. You can learn more about how to support me here: www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith
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The Gospel in Transition by David R. Weiss is a year of reflections on facing climate change, finding hope, and the alchemy of Christian community. My weekly blog posts will consider climate change, Transition, and faith—using biblical images, liturgical seasons, science, and theology, as conversation partners. Writing in a voice a bit too restless to call “devotional”; my aim is to be insightfully evocative and usefully provocative. I’d be delighted to have you join me on this journey. In fact, I hope you’ll subscribe (go to the top right sidebar!) Thanks for reading and see you next week!!
 Rob Hopkins and Sarah McAdams in “The Transition Movement: Past, Present, and Future,” roundtable discussion, 2018 Transition US Tenth Anniversary Online Summit: www.transitiongathering.org/videos.