Living as an Exile

As our seminary cohort prepares for our week-long trip to Italy in May, we are required to read and respond to several books. One of them is Exiles: living missionally in a post-Christian culture by Michael Frost.  I have only just begun reading this book. So far, it is inspiring. Frost asks us to imagine ourselves living in exile, since Christendom no longer reigns supreme in our American society. We must come to terms with the fact that we have lost our place of privilege, and we must consider how we will respond– retreat? assimilate to the dominant culture? or, Frost would say, live dangerously… Here are some interesting and thought-provoking quotes that I am chewing on:

“Exiles are driven back to their most dangerous memories, their recollections of the promises made by Jesus and his daring agenda for human society. Exiles are prepared to practice a set of dangerous promises, promises that point to the kingdom and are not caught up with the prevailing values of the empire. Exiles will mock the folly of that empire by offering a dangerous critique of a society wracked by greed, lust, selfishness, and inequality. And finally, exiles will sing a repertoire of dangerous songs that speak of an unexpected newness of life. What makes these things dangerous is that they are practiced under the noses of those who don’t care to hear them. When no one in the empire wants to be cast back to the radical story of Jesus or to see the biblical promises being enacted, the reaction can be brutal at worst, disdainful at best. How much more dangerous, then, it is to criticize the empire when everyone seems so satisfied with it as is” (p. 10).

“Jesus was the ultimate exile. Thinking equality with God a thing not to be grasped after, he humbled himself and allowed himself to be ‘exiled’ on earth.  And like all good and faithful exiles, he enters fully into life in this host empire without giving himself over to it completely” (p. 29).

Frost makes these comments about the way we read the Gospel stories (our dangerous memories) and respond to them: “We still want to assist Jesus by making him grander, more ‘saviorlike’ than he really appeared, and in doing so we domesticate him. We want to wrench him from the pages of the New Testament, where he is presented as a real man who suffered and died and rose again. And yet, the incarnation remains an offense of monumental proportions. Theologically, the idea of God presented in human flesh is absurd enough, but as if to emphasize that the incarnation calls for action, not just reflection, God’s human manifestation ocurs in an exceedingly ordinary way… the one thing we can’t bear for Jesus to be is ordinary, for his ordinariness invites us to follow him by providing us with a template of how to be Godlike even as an ordinary human being… the appropriate response is personal allegiance to this Messiah, not merely a reliance on the benefits of his work” (p. 37).

I am challenged by Frost’s thoughts here. Do I live like an exile in my world, fully-engaged in it yet not given over to it? Do I live like Jesus lived, or have I so removed him from ordinary human life that I let myself off the hook from following in His steps? What are my dangerous memories and dangerous songs? How do I offer a dangerous critique of this empire that I live in? I wonder…

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Mike
    Dec 27, 2008 @ 10:59:30

    Interesting thoughts! I’m not really sure what any of what you cite here might mean, either, but I am put in mind of the conversation a number of us had here a while back about the reliance of some Christians on the images of the glorified Jesus from the book oh Revelation. This is certainly the most “saviorlike” Jesus we see in the Bible, but it is also the Jesus most in line with this world’s expectations of a revolutionary. I’m left wondering if those images are any more of the Kingdom than of this world.

    Reply

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