Monday, November 30, 2009


Last Sunday was known as “Christ the King Sunday” or in more progressive denominations, “Reign of Christ Sunday;” a Sunday in our liturgical calendar at CWM that always draws moans and groans of justified discontent with the patriarchal, hierarchical, oppressive vestiges of our Christian tradition. Just reading the text for today, an uneasiness pervaded the congregation. King? Really?

And well we should be uneasy about such a seemingly triumphal and easy proclamations of power.

How do we reconcile our faith commitments of mutual love and abiding justice with a tradition that at times can be oppressive in its perpetuation of patriarchal structures of power? What does it mean for us at CWM to celebrate Christ the King Sunday? Is it possible for us to participate in this liturgical rite at all? Or must we simply reject it as incompatible with the Christian tradition we know? Can kingship and the kin-dom exist together in the same faith tradition?

These are critical questions for us to face as a community of faith. While it is easy to dismiss what we perceive as the traditional celebrations of Christ the King Sunday, it is more difficult at times for us to face the inadequacies of familiar progressive interpretations….interpretations which I have preached more than once.

You know them, you have heard them in this very space…sermons that temper the triumphalism of a Kingly Christ by focusing on the paradox of a servant leader. Sermons that focus on the way in which Jesus’ kingship turned the expectations of the world upside down. Sermons that interpret the Reign of Christ as a counter-cultural commonwealth that subverts dominant notions of power and institutes in its place a reign marked by justice, peace, love, and freedom. Sermons that invite parishioners to re-imagine Christ’s reign as God’s commonwealth, God’s kin-dom, God’s vision of peace and justice that we hear reflected in the prophets’ cries throughout the ages. A kinder, gentler reign of sorts.

These are the familiar answers that I, myself, have given over the years to somehow assimilate the Christian Tradition (capital T) with the Christian traditioning done in my own communities of faith. Yet somehow, this year, these all too familiar answers, as true as I still believe them to be, were not satisfying. There was something lacking still.

While I still believe these sermons to express a fundamental truth about our faith, an overemphasis on them does two things: first, it glosses over the importance of understanding and re-interpreting reign as a real re-ordering of priorities and second, it focuses our gaze on the outward, socio-political realities of the world, often times to the exclusion of the inward, transformation of our beings.

As much as we understand the limitations of reign as a patriarchal, hierarchical political state in which which some are allotted agency and independence, while most are kept subjugated as impotent and dependent, there is something significant about re-appropriating the word reign in our own faith lives. Jesus was clear. “My kingdom is not from this world.” Not “of this world,” the text says, but “from this world,” meaning that the notion of kingdom or reign cannot be known in and through our human creations of nation, state and power. It must be re-interpreted through a Christological lens.

Rather than ignore or negate this notion of reign, we are called to re-claim it in a new way. Reign implies a re-ordering of priorities, of norms, of commitments, of rules. A re-ordering in which mutuality has priority over patriarchal domination; in which peace has priority over violence and war; in which love wins out over hatred and fear. The word reign gives us a clearer sense of this radical re-prioritization of the norms and commitments of the world. Everything is not equal in this system. Some values and commitments are given priority over others, and in this sense, there is a hierarchy of commitments.

The difference in this hierarchy is the way in which power is exercised. Rather than a top down imposition of wills, of God demanding obedience to the reign of peace and justice, power in this reign is exercised from below, moving up, in and through and among the world. It is not a power over, but a power with and through. This makes the hierarchy of norms function in a radically different way. God’s reign bubbles up in and through the world as the world opens itself to a new, re-ordering of norms, commitments and values. It happens whenever people witness to the power of love in the face of hate, peace in the face of conflict and life in the face of death. It happens not as imposition from a Divine tyrant, but as rather as a response to Divine Love and possibility.

When we re-imagine reign in this way, we reinterpret the use of power from power over to power with. This we can understand in terms of a socio-political re-ordering of the world in accord with God’s vision of peace and justice. Yet, in our haste to counter the privatized and oft times oppressive spirituality that interprets this Sunday as a pietistic surrender to God’s patriarchal will, we tend to overemphasize this political reading of the text.

The Reign of Christ is not an either/or endeavor. It can never be simply a political re-ordering of the world or a private pietistic surrender to the will of God. It is always simultaneously both/and. The truth lies somewhere in between, doesn’t it?

What would it look like for us to consider God’s reign in our own lives? To open ourselves to a re-ordering of our priorities? To loosen control and invite the Divine to wreck holy chaos with our lives?

This is where I think the re-conceptualization of reign as power with and among is helpful. When we talk about allowing God to reign in our lives, we are not talking about a simple, surrender to God’s will, a throwing up of our anxieties to the Godhead, an uncritical plea for Jesus to take the wheel (which I never thought was a good idea to begin with…).

No, when we understand reign as a power working in and through us, we begin to see God’s reign in our lives more as a habitus than a command.

Today I want to invite us to re-conceptualize God’s reign as a habitus.

Habitus is a Latin word used most commonly to refer to a habit, a pattern of behavior that happens automatically. Good, bad, indifferent, these patterns of behavior are seemingly unconscious. Nail biting, smoking, brushing our teeth first thing in the morning, crossing our legs, twiddling our thumbs. They arise spontaneously without thinking.

In theology, however, habitus takes on a deeper meaning in regard to our spiritual formation. A habitus is a way of living and being that connects us to our faith and our God; patterns of behavior that both shape and are shaped by our faith. I remember vividly how my first year theology professor likened theological habitus to his driving from home to school on the Jamaica Way. His body knew intimately all the crooks and turns and narrow passage ways of the road. Every pothole, every light, every lane shift had become integrated into his being so much so that driving to work seemed an almost automatic response. This, he asserted, was the way in which our theologies and faith lives were intended to be…so intimately known and integrated into our very beings that faith emanated from our very being. At once one and the same.

What I want to suggest today is for us to begin to think about God’s reign in our own lives as the cultivation of a divine habitus, as a way of allowing God to shape and form our lives in real and concrete ways from within, from below…moving in and through our lives. The Reign of Christ is not just for the powers and principalities, it is intended to re-order and re-shape our own lives.
Here at CWM we have our own set of faith habits, don’t we?

“I greet you with grace and peace…”
“Here at CWM, all are welcome…”
“Look around…”

Our theological habits at CWM, are more than just catch phrases, they serve to radically shape and form our faith lives. Think about the way in which these habits…or habitus’ inform the way in which we think about our faith, the world, each other, ourselves. What we do impacts what we believe in a very tangible, real, concrete way.

Living into the reign of God in this way is reflected in our langauge and actions, but goes much deeper. I confess that all too often I live in my head, preferring to live out my faith through intricate theological arguments and abstract statements of belief. (As evidenced by this very sermon!!) I confess I still have much more work to do in allowing the reign of God to pervade the whole of my being. Allowing God to reign in my life, to cultivate a habitus of kin-dom living is much easier preached about than lived. As much as I strive to live out these gospel ideas and commitments in my life, I know that there still exists within me a resistance to surrendering control, to a complete re-prioritization of my own norms or priorities. There is something wild and chaotic about allowing the Divine to move and breathe through you. I talk a good game, but really, truly, authentically allowing God to re-order my life…well, that’s another thing.

One cannot think their way into living out God’s reign as a habitus. No, rather than think your way into God’s reign, we must be our way in. That is, we must practice living into God’s vision of peace and justice…in the world and in our lives, by living it out. By practicing it. My professor did not one day decide to master the driving of the Jamaica Way, but rather the knowledge and mastery, the habitus of driving came in and through the practice of it. That’s why, we come here to CWM. To practice living in the reign of God. To be our way into a holy habitus that transforms our lives, that opens us to new possibilities, that allows God to live and move and breathe in and through our very beings.

What would it mean for us to live into the habitus of God’s reign? How would our lives be transformed if we invited God to guide our own priorities and norms? What would it be like to allow that power from within to arise in our own lives and emerge in and through us? What if we allowed the Christ to reign in our hearts and our lives? Would we be transformed? Would the world change?

I think it just might.

Today when we celebrate the Reign of Christ, we are inviting the Divine to transform our lives by bubbling up in and through our very beings, transforming us through holy habitus, so that we might not only become for the world glimpses in the here and now of the Commonwealth to come, but also open ourselves to the power of the Mystery that is in and through and among and beyond us all.

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