Many of the writings that make up the Christian Scriptures were written and compiled in times of terrifying trouble. The people who wrote them and the people for whom they were written lived under frightening threats. Hostile forces that were beyond their control threatened to suppress them, even to the point of death.
These early Christians were convinced that a prophetic, crucified itinerant preacher who spent most of his public career wandering around Galilee challenging the powers that were (hence, the crucified part) was not really dead, but had been raised from the dead and lived as the Lord of the universe. The Romans didn’t like this challenge to the lordship/divinity of the emperor and the Jewish authorities didn’t like this challenge to their religious traditions. By the time the Christian Scriptures were circulating, life was under multiple threats for the followers of Jesus.
That’s how Stephen Farris set up his course on the Synoptic Gospels this fall at the Vancouver School of Theology. Stephen was my successor as dean of St. Andrew’s Hall, the Presbyterian college at University of British Columbia. He’s a church scholar in the fields of New Testament and preaching. I’m taking his course, the first formal course in New Testament studies that I’ve done in over 40 years. And I’m having a blast! We’re only into the third week and already I’ve got new frames and perspectives on texts and contexts to play with. When asked why I was taking the course, I replied that I wanted to continually improve my ability to open a congenial and informed space for conversations about what it means to follow Jesus in a world of fear and division. Most of that happens through the work and witness of Brentwood Presbyterian Church, the congregation with whom I minister in Burnaby, B,C. But it feeds my work in Jazzthink as well, though in less explicit ways.
So, I thought I’d play a bit with this frame of ‘threat and rescue’ for this column.
Here are some of the threats in our times that put fear into my soul: nuclear attack, environmental destruction, terrorist mayhem, negative politics, indifference, loss of loved ones, failing health, dementia and financial ruin. It’s a highly personal list. Yours might be quite different. But it’s worth listing your fears in the face of the threats you perceive. They have far more power over you if they stay in the deep shadows of your awareness. They hate the light.
Rescue schemes take a variety of forms. Some advise endurance until you are saved into a different realm of being. Some counsel withdrawal into a zone of personal safety. Some offer hope of utopian communities where threats and fears are vanquished. Some urge violent resistance to every threat you perceive. And none of those ring true for me. I understand their allure. But they all fall short of the vision of flourishing as blessings in a world designed for justice, peace and joy.
I think we are rescued from the threats that drive our fears by God’s invitation to contribute our unique gifts to building up a commonwealth that embraces the whole of creation. In the Christian tradition of spirituality, we call it the Reign of God. I think it takes the form of a Commonwealth where justice, peace and joy prevail in love. We (for humans exist as humans only in community) are designed to live into this reality. With every breath we take, with every conversation we have, with every act of compassion that we do, with every prayer of care we offer, we contribute to the healing of our creation and the expansion of this commonwealth.
The God I love and follow, working most clearly and powerfully through Jesus Christ, rescues us from the threats and fears that debilitate us and equips us to work in hope as divine friends in the flourishing of all creation. It is not simply rescue from that which threatens us, but it is rescue to engage in building up the commonwealth of justice, peace and joy.
Now, that is my particular conviction about how we deal with the threats of our times. It is not shared by all who will be reading this column, even by all those who call themselves Christians. And the foundations for this kind of living are understood differently in other religious and spiritual traditions, including secularism. But I think dialogue among these different ways of dealing with threats is crucial. If we withdraw for protection into narrow-minded ghettoes of conviction and certainty, we simply increase the power of the threats. If we engage in conversations about ways to flourish hopefully together, we bring our fears into the light and find friends in facing them.
Brian Fraser is lead provocateur of Jazzthink and minister with Brentwood Presbyterian Church in Burnaby, BC. He works primarily with not-for-profit staffs and boards convening COOL conversations for SMARTer leadership. You can find out more at www.jazzthink.com and www.brentwoodpc.ca.
You can read more articles from our interfaith blog, The Spiritual View, HERE