God’s Kingdom: Arts for the Wider Community by Lynne Baab

The following post  comes from Lynne M. Baab the author of numerous books, most recently Reaching Out in a Networked World, which considers the ways congregations can express their identity and values in an online world. She has also written several books and Bible study guides on spiritual disciplines, including Sabbath Keeping and Fasting, and lots of articles that are posted on her website, . She is a Presbyterian minister with a PhD in communication, and she teaches pastoral theology at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand

God’s Kingdom: Arts for the Wider Community

I sensed the presence of the Kingdom of God recently when I heard two people speak at a conference. Both are leaders of groups of Christian artists who create installations in public parks. Dave White helps facilitate a group of artists in Hamilton, New Zealand, who create stations of the cross during Lent. They did it for the first time in 2004, and 350 people went through. In 2008 and 2009, attendance topped 3,000, spread over eight consecutive evenings. (The 2010 stations were postponed until 2011.) The stations are viewed in order, so often there’s a line of people waiting to enter the park 45 minutes before the stations open.

The artists create fifteen stations, covering Jesus’ last days, plus the resurrection. Dave used the words “static,” “interactive” and “reflective” to describe different kinds of stations. For the artists, the process begins months earlier when they meet together to read and meditate on scriptures related to the 15 stations. Dave asks the artists to sit with the scriptures and write notes about their responses. Then the “combat sessions” begin. The artists discuss three stations each evening, laying all their ideas on the table, sharing thoughts and building upon each other’s ideas.

The whole process, Dave said, is “ego-deflating.” Often one artist’s idea gets assigned to someone else to implement. The stations need to be set up and taken down each night, so a team of 70 volunteers is involved. Dave reflected, “The set up and take down have been a blessing because the group jells into a community.” Here’s the website for the 2009 stations: http://www.stations.org.nz/about/ A second group of New Zealand artists creates a Christmas peace labyrinth every year in a park in Christchurch. Bales of hay form a pathway, and stations within the labyrinth raise questions about peace in various settings in everyday life, such as peace in the workplace, the home, the environment, and between nations.

Peter Majendie, who with his wife leads the group of artists and craftspeople who create the labyrinth, said, “I want to make people feel so deeply they can’t help but think.” Here’s the website of the peace labyrinth: http://www.christmaslabyrinth.co.nz/

Why do these two large scale installations make me feel as if I’m getting a glimpse of the Kingdom of heaven? Why do they lift my heart in gratitude for these faithful artists? To me, these projects represent the best of the Christian Gospel. Because they care about people who wouldn’t darken the doors of a church, these artists create thought-provoking experiences in public spaces, providing an access point to issues of faith. The organizers, volunteers and artists believe that the Christian gospel has relevance to the everyday life of people who are both near to God and far from God, so they are willing to bring aspects of that Gospel into public spaces in order to demonstrate that reality. They spend a lot of energy creating experiences that help people think about what really matters to them and who God might be in their lives. Because artists are involved, the spaces draw on the five senses and integrate emotions and thoughts like all good art can do. The spaces help people think and feel in ways that may be beyond words, but that touch the inner self.

The artists rely on carpenters, plumbers and electricians to help them build the stations, allowing trades people to use their skills in new ways. The set-up and take-down allows involvement of others as well. Community is built between people who normally might not have much contact with each other. One of the amusing roles on the team in Hamilton is “tract buster.”

Some evangelical churches view the stations as a perfect opportunity for passing out tracts to the people who are waiting in line to get in. Someone on the stations team, the “tract buster,” gently tells them to take the tracts elsewhere. The stations team has decided to let the art and experiences of the stations stand on their own, without making explicit connections to the four spiritual laws or other factual presentations of the gospel.

Their commitment to helping people experience aspects of biblical truth, without necessarily explaining it, raises many fascinating questions about what it means to preach the gospel in our time. The art, the teamwork, the emotions and thoughts evoked – all of it in public parks – made me rejoice in the presence of God’s Kingdom when I heard about these two teams of committed people and what they do.

Where is the Kingdom – In Age and Disability

I am currently down in Australia which you may have noticed has decreased the frequency of my blog posts.  I am here visiting my mother who recently celebrated her 87th birthday.  It is not easy to watch someone we love grow old and frail as she is becoming and it is not easy to see the kingdom of God reflected in the aging process. 

I was thinking about this as I read the Bible this morning.  How is the kingdom of God encountered in situations like this?  My mother is still alert and active but she has problems with her eyesight and needs help getting around.  In many ways she is like a child in her dependency on others.  Thinking about that reminded me of Jesus words “Unless you become like one of these little ones you cannot enter the kingdom of God”  (sorry I am paraphrasing here because I don’t have my bible with me)  The dependency of old age is very much like the dependency of a child.  Neither the very old nor the very young are able to look after themselves and we do not expect it of them. 

We hate the loss of independence that age and infirmity brings on all of us, but I suspect that there is much for us to learn about the kingdom of God here.  God’s kingdom is a place of interdependence and mutuality, a place of caring and concern where those who are weak are not just looked after but also respected, in the same way that we love and respect aging parents.

Martyn Joseph – Thunder & Rainbows Lyrics

A couple of days ago Steve Lawson sent me the lyrics to this song by Martyn Joseph which reflects some of the tensions that all of us feel when we think about the kingdom of God.  Good and bad, light and dark are all intertwined in our lives and our world.

I have been grappling with this during the last week following the tragic motorcycle accident that our good friend Steve Ruetschle was in.  Steve fractured his C6-C7 vertebrae and it possible that he will be a quadraplegic as a result.  Whatever happens the recovery will be slow and traumatic.  Steve is one of the gentlest and most godly people I know.  He has a beautiful wife and 3 lovely kids and one cannot help but ask why?  The kingdom is here and is breaking into our world but there are many places in which its light seems very dim

Thanks Steve for the link.

The light or the shade, concealed or displayed
Enemies, friends, opposite ends
Bitter or sweet, ruffled or neat
Feathers or lead, silent or said
Generous or mean, corporate or green
Vagrant or lord, the dove or the sword
Distinct or obscure, prosperous or poor
Devil or saint, we are and we ain’t

Intricate mysteries
Life’s secret code
Cul-de-sac signposts
On yellow brickroads
Ambiguous answers
The question’s still “Why?”
Thunder and rainbows
From the same sky

read the lyrics for the entire song

In Christ Jesus The Kingdom Has Come

When Tom and I speak about the kingdom of God we often use the following verses from Isaiah to portray the beautiful imagery of hope and completion for which we all long.

Isaiah 65: 17 – 25;   Isaiah 2: 1-4;  Isaiah 25: 6-9,   Isaiah 35: 1-7;   Isaiah 9: 2-7

These verses are so indelibly imprinted on my mind that they have formed the basis for many of the liturgies and prayers I have written about the kingdom.  The following prayer is the first that I ever wrote on the topic.  It was the inspiration for this meditation video on shalom that I did some years ago.

Rejoice forever in what I will do

Earth and heaven are being made new

No more weeping or crying or pain

Shalom in God’s Kingdom,

Peace and justice will reign

From every nation and tribe and tongue

Up to God’s mountain the people will come

Limbs will be straightened and eyes made to see

Shalom in God’s Kingdom,

Health and wholeness will be

All of creation rejoices and sings

Abundance and plenty to the table it brings

Food for the hungry, homes for the poor

Shalom in God’s Kingdom,

Good news for us all

In Christ Jesus the Kingdom has come

Uniting, transforming and making us one

Life in its fullness the Spirit outpoured

Shalom in God’s Kingdom,

All things are restored


Justice at the Table – A New MSA Resource

I am delighted to announce that the new MSA resource Justice at the Table by Ricci Kilmer is now available! This resource is a collection of personal reflections and practical ideas to help us redeem “food” in all its dimensions from its mundane place as an annoying chore to a spiritual practice essential to a life of faith. This resource is designed for busy people and includes a mini-booklet for jotting notes on the go.

Ricci continues to challenge me and many of us in MSA about the importance of considering the decisions we make about what we eat and how we think about our food.  Take a look and see how you can continue to redeem your relationship with food for the kingdom of God.

The Kingdom is Here – Where do we see it?

Two weeks ago I began a new series on this blog entitled The Kingdom is Here Where Do You See It? I began with some theological reflections for a publication I produced some years ago entitled Wholeness and the Shalom of God. It is my intention to update and republish this in the next few months.  This has been followed up by several reflections and descriptions of small mustard seed ministries that reflect something of God’s kingdom breaking into our world.  There is still time to participate if you would like to submit a post.

Here are the posts so far:

What Does God’s Kingdom Look Like: Unveiling God’s Dream For Shalom

What Does God’s Kingdom Look LIke – Anti Shalom Forces at Work

What Does God’s Kingdom Look Like for the Children of Israel

What Does God’s Kingdom Look Like to the Prophets?

What Does God’s Kingdom Look Like to Jesus

The Kingdom Is Here – Let’s Celebrate

What Does the Promise of the Kingdom Look LIke – Reflections from Dave Perry

A Multi-Faith Seminary – Could This Be the Kingdom?

The Kingdom Is – Becoming Instruments of Change from Jon Stevens

The Kingdom is Here – Reflections from Richard Rohr

Intentional Community: Living our Dreams or Discovering God’s Possibilities

Intentional Community: Living Our Dreams or Discovering God’s Possibilities

The following article Intentional Community: Living Our Dreams or  Discovering God’s Possibilities by Eliacin Rosario Cruz was first published as part of the MSA June Seed Sampler on Intentional Community.

My family and I are part of an intentional residential community, Mustard Seed House.

Our community is grounded in a physical space (a house) where we welcome people, garden, cook, play, pray and conspire for a new reality. Our young community has gone through several expressions and seasons. We’ve had friends travel with us for awhile, and then move on in their own life journies. In this space – relational and physical – we try to be present to each other. We have great memories and stories of our time together.
Each of us, in our community and in our larger networks of relationships (communities), have strong ideas and opinions about the reasons why community is important. However community, like shoes, comes in many forms, sizes and colors. There is no one-size-fits-all kind of community. The concept of community is as diverse as how each one experiences it.

The word community comes to us in the West loaded with meaning, meaning we give to it according to our past experiences and our personal expectations. Some think of it as something with deep, transformative powers like those inspired by the writings of Jean Vanier and Wendell Berry. For others it brings bad memories of life-smothering experiences in fundamentalist and legalistic groups. Like shoes, some communities will provide good support over a long journey, while other communities keep a tight grip on you, causing excruciating pain. In my experience with communities, I’ve noticed that most of them live in a constant struggle to balance the free form with the structured form. This struggle is one that each community should whole-heatedly embrace as they seek to provide a space for hopeful and transformational life together.

Some communities, like individuals, can lose sense of purpose, falling prey to the circular reasoning that they are community because they must be a community. Communities that find they exist for themselves (as noble and lofty as their goals may be) exist in a spirit-consuming vortex that prevents them from engaging life outside themselves. Others get sidetracked in developing strategies, plans and outward activities that smother the relational oxygen needed to thrive healthily as community.

One of the main reasons I am interested in intentional community, be it residential or not, is because it provides a safe space in which to start exploring and practicing in an incarnate manner the way of Jesus. I’m of the strong opinion that we need physical spaces in which to practice what we believe because, after all, the way one lives is the ultimate manifestation of what one believes. This is one of the reasons I speak of communities as liberated spaces (more on that at a later time).

That said, our strong ideas and opinions of what community should be sometimes get in the way of actually living it. As children of the ideology of historical progress, we are constantly trapped in the idea that we are working toward some goal or outcome that will give meaning to our present. The language often used in community circles expresses the idea of building, creating, making, cultivating – language that is focused on later outcomes.

This way of thinking about community forms the idea that people live in community in the present only as a way to accomplish something future – be it a sustainable planet, a just society, or a liberated world. In order to accomplish our goals and outcomes, many communities develop plans, procedures and guidelines. Others glance back at the romanticized elements of monastic Christianity looking for models and ideas for rules of life.

In this constant “working toward something” we run the risk of being blinded to the present expression of community, what we have in the here and now. In the laudable enterprise of building the road to a different future we lose touch with the gift of the present community, not the one we are building, but the one we have at this very moment. It is in this being present (what others call awareness) that we find the spirit of the future in our midst.

Communities that engage in the typical act of dreaming new possibilities function either from the perspective of having some grasp on how the future should look or, for those who are counter-culturally aware of the present, discovering the emergence of the hopeful future as it breaks in to their present reality. One approaches life as description and prescription of how things should be, the other approaches life as the sprout of new possibilities never before thought or dreamed of.

It is in this move into a space of awareness and exploration that a community is called to put into practice its faith as it engages into the unknown, or what the mystics would refer to as “the eternal unfolding of the now.” Once we take the leap into allowing the spirit to be the guide, we allow space for something transcendent to happen – the becoming of community.

As for the Mustard Seed House, keep us in your prayers as we try to move into this space of becoming.