Intersecting Thoughts Roadmap for 2014: Missional/Nonviolence/Permaculture

I’ve set myself the goal for 2014 of centering my thinking specifically around three spheres of thought, and the possible overlaps between them.

These spheres of thought are missional thinking and practice, the spirituality and practice of nonviolence, and the principles of permaculture. Things always look more interesting in Venn diagrams, so I’ve included one here:

missional_nonviolence_permaculture

I’ll blog more about the ideas that are emerging from this study in other posts, but I just wanted to outline here some of the reasons why I’m interested in these areas, and also to list a few of the influences on my thinking in each area (and, ideally, to gain more input into this!).

In regards to missional thinking and practice, I’m captivated by its incarnational and holistic nature. I’m also energised by the almost limitless possibilities in regards to what missional communities look like (far removed from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach).

I’m reading books like David Bosch’s classic Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, through to authors like Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost with their The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church (and Frosty’s excellent The Road to Missional: Journey to the Center of the Church). I’m also including in the mix titles like Christopher Wright’s The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative, and Bryant Myers’ Walking with the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development.

I was extremely fortunate last year to spend some time with Ruth Padilla deBorst, and to hear about what integral mission means for her (and how she seeks to embody it). I’ve also had the opportunity recently to see the work of a wonderful group of Christians in an area near where I live (north-western Sydney), seeing how they live out this incarnational, holistic mission in a lower socio-economic area (working around social enterprise opportunities and partnering with the local council for a community garden, to name just a few of the things they do).

In regards to the spirituality and practice of nonviolence, it’s been something that’s been growing on me for a number of years now. I attended some nonviolence training with Pace e Bene Australia in 2012, perhaps not totally convinced about it all. Having emerged from that training, reading through the Engage: Exploring Nonviolent Living textbook and John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus, I found myself thoroughly convinced and eagerly desiring more.

My reading, admittedly, has been a little light-on to this point. In addition to the titles above, I’ve been working through various bits and pieces by Gandhi and MLK (and watching countless YouTube videos of nonviolence in action), in addition to Walter Wink’s fantastic little primer Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way. The most important influences on me in this area, however, have been some friends of mine, as we have formed something like the beginnings of a community of practice. Discussions about non-violent direct action (NVDA) concerning a couple of hot-button political issues have been incredibly enlightening.

In regards to permaculture, I think the three core principles speak for themselves:

  • Care for the earth
  • Care for people
  • Share/return the surplus

Permaculture—far more than just growing vegetable gardens—is a way of thinking and acting that has ramifications for the whole of human life, ranging from the environmental sphere, through to social (and spiritual) applications. Basically, it’s about moving from mindless consumption to sustainable, integrated thinking and living.

I’ve been working through the Regenerative Leadership Institute’s free online permaculture design course, as well as reading Toby Hemenway’s Gaia’s Garden and Bill Mollison’s classic Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual.

What is really exciting, however, is thinking through the ways in which these spheres of thought intersect. In both missional and permaculture thinking at least, the edges and the overlaps are exciting places to be. As I indicated above, I’m going (hopefully) to post about this in much more detail over the coming months, but it’s just something that I thought was worth noting at the outset.

So, there it is. This Venn diagram represents for me the focus of my thinking throughout 2014, and I heartily invite you to explore any or all of these possibilities with me.

It probably goes without saying, but I should point out that I’m a total rookie when it comes to each of these systems of thought—especially when it comes to putting them into practice. My interest in these areas is not just in regards to thinking interesting thoughts or having interesting conversations (though they’re good and fun), but in embodying the values in my own life in concrete ways. My hope is that my own life and my way of living is significantly changed through this process.

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Defining Justice

How do us Christians define ‘justice’? How is it defined in our churches (whether explicitly or implicitly)? How, in turn, are our actions defined by our understanding?

It seems to me that many Christians use the word ‘justice’ without necessarily understanding what (biblical/Christian) justice is all about. I sometimes hear Christians talk about justice in a way that makes it sound tangential to the gospel message at best, downright distracting at worst. Others speak of justice like it’s another passing fad, soon to be left behind by ‘the next big thing’. Others situate justice as a kind of subset of the Good News, or something that Christians might be involved with as a kind of add-on to the more core elements of their faith (or, perhaps, just give lip service to).

I don’t think that any of these options will suffice, and here’s why.

1) The ‘Justice’ of God refers to nothing less than God’s wise rule in action.

In the biblical material, justice is integrally linked to God’s righteousness and wise judgment. God, the truly righteous one, has set forth a plan for seeing creation operating at its full potential. This plan, or these judgments, cover every facet of our lives: our relationship with the creator, our relationships with each other, and our relationship with the rest of creation. Justice, then, is what flows from God’s wise rule being put into action. It is relationships (as defined above) set right, and operating in a way that sees life and wholeness flourish.

Through the testimony of those who have encountered God throughout salvation history we have a record of the way in which the people of God should work towards living out God’s wise rule in their communities and in our world. God has made it clear what these communities should look like. They are to be places where those who are not able to protect themselves are protected, where the vulnerable are cared for. Indeed, this has always been one of the defining features of the people of God! These are communities where the powerful are boldly confronted for ever daring to exploit or oppress others. These communities are also to care deeply for God’s good creation, recognizing humanity’s integral connection to the rest of creation. We are not, therefore, working towards something that is unclear or not yet defined; God’s plan is not hidden!

And this is most evident in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is in Jesus that we see what God’s wise rule truly looks like. Through Jesus’ life and work, the kingdom of God (which is nothing other than the place/s where the wise rule of God is acknowledged) has broken powerfully into the present, and by the Spirit of God we are empowered to continue the same work. Our goal is quite simple: to model our own lives on the life of Jesus and to see God’s wise rule worked out through the whole of creation. This is what justice looks like.

This is certainly not, therefore, a subsection of the Good News of God in salvation history; it is the fullness of God’s wise rule being worked out in the whole of creation. Justice is what the kingdom of God looks like. It is shalom being achieved.

And this leads directly to the second point.

2) Justice must be demonstrated.

The concept of justice means nothing unless it is embodied or incarnated or demonstrated. Discussing of theory of justice will not do; for justice to be justice it must be worked out in concrete examples in our communities.

Where the vulnerable are being exploited or oppressed, it means standing in solidarity with them and challenging the oppressors. It sometimes means confronting and seeking to overturn significant ‘structures of sin’.

Where the dignity of those who are made in the image of God is denied, it calls for rebuke.

Where God’s good creation is used and abused for greedy gain and without thought for future generations, it means standing up for creation care and changing unhelpful habits.

It means challenging racism and classism and sexism and all the other walls of hostility that divide us up into warring tribes. It means feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, and asking how it is possible that there are those who are hungry and naked in our world in the first place.

Basically, it means embodying the values of the coming kingdom in the present, living out an alternative way of being that holds at its very core the flourishing of the whole of creation.

But it means nothing unless it is demonstrated. It remains a fading dream unless it is embodied.

This, I would suggest, is a more helpful definition of justice. The question is, will we let our lives be defined by it?