The Kingdom of Heaven, Mixed Media 2016
Recently I finished a final draft of a parable I’ve been writing for the past two years to send off to a Literary Magazine I highly respect that was all about—yup you guessed it—the Church.
And I had to change the ending.
When I first wrote this parable, I let the ending hit the reader like a sucker punch of conviction, because I didn’t really have much hope of the Church changing for the better on the issue I was writing about. While I have never left the Church, my experience in it has been both life-giving and extremely painful. My companions in it tend to be those on the fringes, the black sheep in the body of Christ, who sometimes get hurt and failed one time too many and do make their exits. I mourn them, I miss them, and while I live convinced that I am called to fellowship in the people of God regardless, I don’t blame my friends for leaving either.
I surprised myself when I wrote this new ending, because it revealed that I have a greater hope for the Church than I thought. Because I love her, and I am in her, I am vocal about her failings without qualifications, and her call to change to look more like Christ on earth today. Formed by my experiences I have a history of expecting more of the church, and hoping less.
So what gave me this hope? Three things.
First: the return of satire.
The Church needs satire to grow, to keep us honest, and to make us laugh. Many of us in Christendom have mourned these silent years since The Wittenberg Door went off the air.
But now we’ve got Radio Free Babylon, best known for the fantastic straight shooter Coffee with Jesus. Even more recently is the appearance of The Babylon Bee, because who doesn’t want to know that The Gospel Coalition has lowered the heresy threat level from orange to yellow?
My second reason for hope: seminaries giving back to the Church at their own cost, be it social or financial.
Chicago Theological Seminary stepped boldly into public dialogue, modeling for the Church the need to enter racial politics without fear and with responsibility with their White Privilege Glasses campaign.
And Dallas Theological Seminary’s Department of Doctoral Ministry has reached in their own pockets to develop a website that shares the original research done by graduates of their program with churches and ministries. Even though it is still in beta-testing, Praxidoxy seeks to show the beauty of orthodoxy in practice by sharing the work that God is doing on earth in people and for people.
I should know, because I’m the one that they have paid to design and develop it, for no other purpose than a desire to enrich and equip the Church. DTS doesn’t need another jewel in their crown, they just love people that much and it has been my honor to serve with them in this.
The third reason I have a new hope for the Church? It is making space for Artists.
Earlier this week I was deeply disenfranchised and hurt when I and other Christian Artists’ work was invited into a new space by a Christian organization, and then told a couple of days before the show that we’d been re-located. We were welcomed, and then that welcome was revoked with no reasons given. It’s not the first time this has happened, and it won’t be the last, but it grieves me that while so much of evangelicalism is finally waking up to take responsibility to make amends to minorities and women, that those same parties are still hurting artists.
But God knew this was coming.
The same week I had the pastor of my local church, Catalyst, invite me (an artist who has been a church member for less than six months), to bring a piece of my work in to display it in conjunction with our latest sermon series. One of the reasons I joined my church back in November of last year was their commitment, given from the altar several Sundays, “to make space for everyone to glorify God through their gifts.” And unlike many times in the past, this time the Church was faithful to her word.
The name of the piece that I brought in? The Kingdom of Heaven. It’s a piece that serves as a window into eternity and into the present. It invites the viewer to see that we are the people of God, temporally embedded but at the same time temporally transcendent, because of the Lamb who was slain. We are beautiful to behold because we are diverse, flawed, and forgiven.
The Kingdom is here. He has come to us and is in us.
For this reason and for many more besides, I will hope.