Tuesday, July 10, 2012

a Kingdom state of mind

Sunday in worship at Grace UMC, we heard about how Jesus proclaimed a "Kingdom of God" that confounded all of his hearers' expectations. The coming Kingdom was not about political autonomy and powerful armies but about humble service to others and turning the other cheek; its king would not reign from a throne but from a cross. Jesus's preaching called his hearers to a conversion of their imaginations--they had to imagine a new kind of Kingdom with a new kind of king demanding an entirely new kind of life from its citizens, a life consistent with its own peculiar character. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the invitation to undergo this conversion, to become a citizen of this Kingdom.

Martha Beck and her husband John were Harvard students... in fact that was probably their most defining characteristics. They had degrees from the Ivy League institution already and were both working on PhD's when Martha became pregnant with their second child, Adam. Pregnancy in general could be a problem for Harvard students--Martha knew other women who had aborted their fetuses when it became clear that the due date fell near an important exam. In this academic world dominated by competitiveness and achievement, "personal matters," like pregnancy, were of little import.
Yet Martha's pregnancy carried a further difficulty: Adam, it became clear, had Down Syndrome. The world of Harvard had clear, simple expectations for children. They were to be prodigies: Mozarts, Picassos, Bobby Fischers. The goal was "to turn a human infant into a genius in the shortest time possible." Adam would never be the child this world demanded.

Despite the pressures and confusion they met in so many, Martha and John decided to let Adam live, to have this child. Even they had been prepared to abort a child who was "defective," but this pregnancy was changing the way they looked at the world, and the boy with Down Syndrome.
In her book Expecting Adam, Martha chronicles the journey they made through this pregnancy into life with their new son. Looking back on it all, she concludes:
This has been the second phase of my education, the one that followed all those years of school. In it, I have had to unlearn virtually everything Harvard taught me about what is precious and what is garbage. I have discovered that many of the things I thought were priceless are as cheap as costume jewelry, and much of what I labeled worthless was, all the time, filled with the kind of beauty that directly nourishes my soul. (p. 331)

This is a picture of life in the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom issues a constant call to repent--repent of our conceptions and prejudices, our confused judgments about the world around us, what is precious in it and what is garbage. That's conversion. The apostle Paul called it being "transformed through the renewing of your minds" (Rom 12:2). Christianity is not about getting your beliefs about God straight: it's about being the people of God. The Christian life, the life of the people of God, is the life that allows the vision of the Kingdom--the place where Jesus rules and all are one in Christ, where you are not your own and we ought to bear one another's burdens--allows this vision to shape you and form you as a citizen. This is the call of the gospel, the way of life filled with the kind of beauty that nourishes your soul.

1 comment:

Rick said...

Nice piece, Nance.