Today, we will hear from Phyllis Tickle:
The Kingdom of God as a phrase and as a concept or construct has been much on my mind over the last two or three years; and this, the best I can tally, for three, distinctly different reasons. [The fourth may well be that the Spirit was simply using the other three to focus my attention on the matter. I pray so, anyway.]
First, and some two years ago, I was asked to write an essay on Heaven to be included in a collection of essays bearing the entirely logical title of Heaven. I never worked as hard in my life. Every single sentence–or at least the idea contained in every single sentence–had implications for the theology of every other sentence. Before I was done, theology was banging up against theology like bowling balls gone wild in a chaotic game of Blow the Man Down. Everything I did upset or unsaid something else I had always thought or thought I thought and believed. It was misery.
Second and simultaneously, I was deep into the work of stripping away the narrative pacing and commentary surround from the canonical gospels in order to render the words of Jesus into a Sayings Gospel format. [www.allthewordsofjesus.com] So stripped and when merged into a whole, those words of Jesus are scary. In fact, their impact is almost more than one can bear…and they are disproportionately concentrated around the kingdom of God, the kingdom of Heaven, eschatology, the parousia….call it what you will, the overwhelming emphasis is still there. Now we all know intellectually that Jesus’ emphasis is there, I suppose; but I had never “known” it in my Christian gut until I came slap up against it in the drama of the Sayings format.
Third and simultaneously as well as continuously, I began to hear and have continued to hear, like a liet motif in my e-mail and in Christian gatherings around the country, a concern for too much “hereafter” in our present understanding of the Kingdom. Too much hereafter pie in the sky and too little here and now. Too much “Christianity is all about saving your soul for later” and not enough “Christianity is about all of us right here and right now.”
Increasingly, I became aware of my own religious laziness in not having wrestled with all of this years ago. I also became aware, of course, of my total lack of skill for wrestling with it at all. I still am ill-prepared to do any grand theorizing or even much pedestrian commentary. Instead, my praying and listening and yearning toward resolution or explanation have wandered back into Judaism and back into the story out of which we come and in which lie almost all the early seedlings of the forest in which we are living.
There is a tribe, I believe…a people dispersed around the globe, driven from the center of their beginning, but held to one another and to the dream of the center in their hearts by mutual miracle and affection and longing. They were, in the beginning, a pair in a garden that became a family that moved among humanity and that, in time, became a tribe. A tribe chosen of God and then, by a singular intervention, expanded to a membership of millions. Like any tribe, this one has its common heritage and shared stories and its symbolic rituals of bonding and mutual recognition. And as with any tribe, its members are citizens of nowhere and everywhere, because theirs is not a citizenship of geography, but one of communal blood, of allegiance to an ancestral promise, and of a familial spirit housed within them and functioning there.
The kingdom of God, I think, is that tribe…a tribe of migrants moving through from the beginning to the end that will never be because, outside of the restraints of time, endings can not be since there are no beginnings. The scenery of the Kingdom–the landscapes of the migratory moves–may change, but that is all that changes. The tribe is. It is beyond the concept of either “now” or “later,” for like endings and beginnings, now and later are artifices of time, not reality. Thus it is, Father, that we pray that Your kingdom come and Your will be done in this landscape as it is in the center. Amen.