Back in college I loved the band Caedmon's Call. I had all their albums, saw a few shows, and was enamored with boys who could play their songs by heart. They were the only Christian band I didn't backtrack on there for a while, but when I got out of youth ministry, I sorta let them go, too. The over-dose was probably inevitable. One does not live by [Christian culture] alone.
I hadn't listened to or thought of them in years when the chorus of "This World" got stuck in my head:
This world has nothing for me
And this world has everything
All that I could want
And nothing that I need
But this time, these once-familiar lines caught me off guard. I don't believe anything close to that anymore. Did I even back then? (This is why I bang the media literacy drum!)
What about the Genesis creation narrative in which everything God makes is unequivocally deemed to be good? Are Christians somehow exempt from basic human needs: food, shelter, security, love? Is the kingdom of God not inaugurated here among us, "on earth as it is in heaven," as Jesus proclaimed? What the hell kind of world is this song even talking about?**
This world is making me drunk
On the spirits of fear
Despite believing "perfect love casts out fear," Christians can be among the bigger manufacturers of it. Isn't fear partly what drives the desire for safe alternatives to "worldly" bands, movies, gyms, and schools, so Christians can be "in the world" (ish...) "but not of it"?
I don't believe retreat from the world is what Jesus prayed for in John 17. I realize "the world" (and "the flesh") function as metaphors, but words shape our thinking, and overemphasizing these can lead Christians into devastating and idolatrous territory.
A world vacant of value is disposable, and so are its inhabitants. Dualistic theology prizing the spiritual and heavenly over the material and embodied cannot functionally practice neighbor-love or the sort of ministry Jesus models. In that worldview, people of other faiths and no faith at all are easily seen and treated as projects--which is objectifying and dehumanizing--rather than kindred, beloved co-bearers of the image of God.
I get that the Bible talks of Christians having heavenly citizenship, being strangers on earth, and following Jesus above all else. Christians believe in more than whatever we see and experience now, but ours is not a pie-in-the-sky gospel of go-to-heaven-when-you-die. It's the gospel of "Today salvation has come to this house,""the kingdom of God is at hand," and "all things new," even now. Even here.
Creation, incarnation, and resurrection reveal deep, abiding goodness in our world and bodies. In beauty and pleasure. Learning and work. Art and play. Friendship and hospitality. Birth. Growth. Sex. Justice. Community. Love. We worship, serve, and practice our faith in this world, with our bodies, like Jesus did. This side of heaven, there is no apart: falsely elevating the spiritual divorces our bodies from our very selves, diminishing wholeness and shalom among and within us. We are physical, emotional, rational, sexual, spiritual beings all at the same time, and it's good.
The gospel of Jesus is good news for people-with-bodies and a world which God created, loves, and redeems.
And now I'm waking up
And now I'm breaking up
But now I'm making up
For lost time
**Edited to add:
YOU GUYS. Amy Peterson told me she read "This World" as a rejection of the insular church subculture the group grew up in, [There's tarnish on the golden rule/ And I want to jump from this ship of fools/ Show me a place where hope is young/ And people who are not afraid to love] and my mind is blown. Please weigh in, nerds.