It’s infrequent at best that I’ve had the privilege of witnessing someone convert to Christianity. I have ideas about what it would look like. In fact I have a few people in mind who I suspect are on their way into discovering Christ and his reign. But I wish I knew how people are most likely to be drawn into the kingdom.
Yes, the Spirit does an inward miracle; conversion is always because of the Spirit. And yes many are born into families, which is often or sometimes a help. But for one who is relatively new to the ways and world of God’s church, is it through visiting a local church and being warmly welcomed by people and the Word of God? Is it in university that a person might likely be open and exposed to God’s people who bear witness to the life of Christ? Of course yes, and yes, and yet, I can’t get away from the belief that a person is most likely to experience conversion by encountering a small group of people who live in physical neighbor-like proximity to each other who seek to announce the coming of God’s kingdom. In my mind they do this by making kingdom life visible through living an alternative way. I believe that a small community of neighbors who collectively hope towards and live in anticipation of God’s total reign live counter to and even in critique of North American culture, with its bent towards consumerism, competition, individualism and the like.
I know that my faith has been transformed in part by brushing up against such sub-communities. In such places, there tends to be a low apologetic tone outside of the church walls but a greatly visible alternative way of living in the everyday.
Both in their horizontal relationships to people and to God’s creation but also in their heart’s slow move towards holiness, these people seem to be caught up in a strong breeze that brings with it unlikely realities like reconciliation, restoration, recovery, beauty, creativity, compassion, sacrifice, justice and obedience. Also, I’ve yet to encounter a subcommunity seeking to live out God’s kingdom life in the most elemental places in society who have not also made it their business to care for the least in their neighborhoods.
I want to be a part of such a community. I want Calkins Ave., and Lake Drive and Orchard Hill and Baldwin St. to be pulled together by a common longing for the Kingdom which visibly announces to our neighbors that Heaven is on its way to Earth. I think it’s fair to call this way of living, prophetic. It is prophetic because it is announcing an alternative way which offers both critique and hope. It is announcing what is to come on behalf of heaven.
There are a number of families in the East Hills neighborhood who also are asking, “What does it mean to seek the Kingdom here in 49506, USA?”
I am so glad. I think something’s happening, I think that Holy Wind is catching up the air of our streets and our anticipation rises with it. I think we are being summoned.
But this all feels tentative, and slightly imaginary. Partly because we are busy with schedules to keep and kids to put to bed, and partly because we all have our idols. I’ve got mine. (See almost all of my other posts).
Old Testament Scholar, Walter Brueggemann in his book The Prophetic Imagination encapsulates both my longings and my failings when it comes to the conviction that I with my community can be different. Here’s a taste:
As every vibrant subcommunity knows, the defining prerequisite for such a subcommunity is a conviction that it can and will be different because of the purposes of God that will not relent. A deficit in that conviction, to which we are all prone, will produce despairing conformity, an atmosphere making the prophetic profoundly unlikely (xviii).