Old medieval world maps tried to accurately represent the world as it was then known. At the edges of these maps, where knowledge and exploration petered out, imagination and fear took over. In a large, cautionary hand, the cartographers would scrawl over these mysterious and unexplored territories the ominous warning, "There be dragons!" Even as we remember our childhood fears of monsters behind the closet door or under the bed, the cartographer's cautionary advice may still haunt us: there could be dragons and God knows what else out there.
The last six months have perhaps led many of us to wonder what is beyond this season where so much disruption has come at us so fast. Life as we’ve known it is being unraveled not only by a global health crisis, but also by an economic crisis, a political crisis with a looming election AND a swelling racial injustice crisis stretched over generations. We now live in a moment when almost everyone is somewhere in the five stages of grief. The turmoil of 2020 has completely discredited the tired cliché, “God will not give you more than you can handle.” With virtually every corner of society and crevice of our lives in some way disturbed, it’s not a question if there are dragons but how fierce they will be.
At the risk of getting into some “good trouble,” it is nauseatingly problematic how often the Christian faith can fixate on heaven as the answer, especially when earthly life gets tough. The message of Jesus was never about escaping earth, raptures, or disembodied souls ascending to some heavenly realm. Jesus was always about the fact that God’s realm has come, and that we’re invited to enter in that reality here and now. When Jesus moved into our neighborhood, faith in him shifted our hearts, minds, and bodies to be pointed toward love, compassion, and justice here and now. The authentic way of Jesus is about heaven making its way into every moment, every perspective, every decision, every action, and every relationship here and now.
The entire biblical narrative reveals how God is actively committed to the renewal of all things, then and now. God has always invited us to truly do justice by disrupting the status quo, then working for restoration. God has always invited us to really love mercy by being empathetic in a world that mocks, bullies, belittles, scoffs, and scolds. God has always invited us to visibly walk humbly in step with God toward those on the margins and to treasure all of God’s people in their beautiful diversity. Better than the “What would Jesus do?” craze a few years ago is the question: “What would Jesus have us do?” Following Jesus means we do not accept the world as it is, but we insist on the world becoming the way God wants it to be. That way has everything to do with being bridges of reconciliation and building longer tables instead of bigger walls.
The beloved poet, Mary Oliver, said: “Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on.” Perhaps what is beyond this season will go on with deeper grace if what Jesus says isn’t separated from what Jesus does. Seeing as Jesus sees and loving as Jesus loves here and now will threaten any escapist fascination with a future heaven. And whatever dangerous dragons may be lurking beyond, let alone in our current crises, they’re no match for the justice-doing/mercy-loving/humbly-walking embodiment of Jesus permeating our lives here and now.
The Rev. Dr. Brandon Lewis is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) currently serving as pastor of United Presbyterian Church in Albany. He has a Master's of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and a Doctorate of Ministry degree from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He lives in Albany with his wife and four children.
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