A few weeks ago, I finished reading Finding Our Way Again by Brian McClaren, and one quote in it seemed especially meaningful. I want to record that here and maybe generate some discussion. I'm sure this will make it into a sermon eventually.
... the kind of person who wants to participate in the healing of the world is very different from the kind of person who wants to leave this world behind so she can go to a better one. That difference deserves a bit of additional reflection.
If your goal is to produce firefighters and rescue workers, you have to produce people willing to enter burning buildings. They do this not because they love fire but because they hate it, and they despise the damage it can do to people and their dreams. Their hatred of fire and their love of safety draws them toward fire and danger. Contrast this to two other kinds of people: pyromaniacs (or arsonists) and pyrophobes. Pyromaniacs love fires and the damage they cause, and so start them. Pyrophobes fear fires and avoid them at any cost.
Similarly if your goal is to produce doctors and health care workers, you have to produce people willing to get close to disease. They do this not because they love disease, but because they hate it and they despise the damage that disease can do to people and their dreams. Their hatred of disease and their love of health draw them close to sickness, seeking to understand it in order to treat it. They aren't like a careless sex addict who has HIV and doesn't care whom he infects, nor are they like a person with OCD who is constantly driven by a fear of germs to wash her hands a hundred times a day and to avoid anyone and anything that could possibly infect her. In contrast, health care workers are willing to get up close and personal with disease, but they do so in order to fight disease and promote health.
Similarly, consider a social worker who works with violent teen offenders. She hates violence - domestic abuse, gang fights, robbery, rape. She despises what it does to people and their dreams. She devotes her life - even risks her life - for the cause of peace and to fight against violence. She isn't drawn to violence the way a gangster is, nor does she run from it like a coward might. She is drawn toward the very thing she hates in order to stop it.
My concern is that by making heaven after this life the destination of our way, we are spiritually forming people who run away from fire, disease, and the violence of our world. That's certainly a major step up from pyromaniacs, disease vectors, or violent delinquents. But it's not as good as what Jesus set out to do, and I think the same could be said for Moses and Muhammad. My concern is that Jesus was more like a firefighter or doctor or social worker who walks boldly into the danger in order to try to stop it.
If a healed and healthy earth is your destination, the way to that goal promotes involvement, engagement, risk, and participation. If earth is a lost cause to you, then, you will abandon this life and world for the afterlife. You will choose the way of withdrawal, isolation, self-protection, and self-distancing. By choosing one destination, you follow the way of incarnation and transformation; by choosing the other destination, you choose evacuation and abdication. Very different destinations, very different ways to them (69-71).
Want to be a firefighter with me?