5 Maps to Contextualize Discipleship, Part II
In the last post, I voiced my conviction that we cannot think about being Jesus' disciples outside of the concrete contexts we inhabit. I then introduced two "maps" to help us imagine our world. This post explores three more ways to view our contexts so that we can more faithfully follow our Lord and Savior.
3. Discipleship in the Three Dimensions of Social Location
How do we think of ourselves as a person in relation to any other person? Have you ever thought about that question? If you were to map humanity, how would you do it? Well, I'm sure there are a million ways to go about it, and many that would reveal things my graph does not. That said, I would like to propose one way I find helpful.
In the social matrix above, we can see that everyone has three different major characteristics.
1) Diversities ('x' axis): In no particular order, we can list all the combinations of different kinds of people by gender, ethnicity, religion, age, etc.
2) Vocational Involvements ('y' axis): Then we can list people by what they do and who they associate with. This could include organizing people by the sectors (public, private, nonprofit, community) they work in and/or volunteer with. It could also include the a persons social groups. Basically, we are trying to plot who a person's major areas of social connections.
3) Power ('z' axis): Finally, everyone has different degrees of power in society mostly based on their job, economic status, relational connections, and/or political clout. Those with significant influence are plotted higher on the spectrum while those who are socially powerless would lie toward the bottom.
Why would we want this kind of social map? How, as Christians, do we evaluate what it shows us? We'll explore this in greater depth someday, but for now I will make two quick points.
First, Jesus radically reverses the way power works in our world. In the Kingdom, the poor inherit the world and the least servant becomes the greatest. Most dramatically, before the cross there is no power difference from one person to another. We are all equally in need of forgiveness and salvation. So, as we observe growing economic and political inequality, we have to throw up a red flag. Something is wrong with this picture.
Second, we have been tasked with the ministries of shalom and reconciliation. We are to heal the brokenness of the world and draw alienated people back into relationship with one another. As disciples who own this mission as ours, we can use this map to help us avoid becoming isolated in one narrow quadrant. Seeking peace in a divided world means connecting with diverse people and helping them connect compassionately with one another. The possibilities revealed in this little picture thrill me every time I look at it!
(though he moves in a slightly different direction, this graph was inspired by John Paul Lederach's amazing book The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace)
4. Discipleship in the Body of Christ
I started to draw a couple different pictures for this one, but wound up poking so many holes in my own theories that I decided to not even try. Suffice it say that as a disciples, we do not follow after Christ alone. We journey with a community of other followers. Like Jesus, these partners walk with us at varying degrees of intimacy. Jesus had the disciple "whom he loved," the inner three (Peter, James and John), the twelve, others like Mary, Martha and Lazarus who were his close friends, the seventy two, and even the masses. This will be case for our own journeys as well.
Today, we typically have our local church community that we do life with, but there are also many other Christians in our local area. These too are our partners in the practice of faith. Particularly when we consider how to seek the peace of our neighborhoods and cities, we must do so in collaboration not competition with our brothers and sisters. Outside of our local geography, there is the global church community in all its diversity. We must consider what it means to be a disciples within a church of many theological traditions, denominations and cultural expressions.
Someday, we will come back around to pondering this context of discipleship. But I must admit, it is one of the most difficult for me to comprehend. Just who is the Church? What is she supposed to be like? How do we do life together? How do we relate to those outside our communities? Where are we all headed? These are hard questions that should perhaps not be answered too confidently.
5. Discipleship in Time
Everything we have looked at so far attempts to capture what the world is like right now, in the present. This present is represented in the vertical axis in the picture above. But all people and places have a past and a future.
Our world is shaped from top to bottom by the actions and ideas of those who came before us. The plot of land my little apartment sits on was once a large raison-grape orchard. The landowner's mansion is now the administrative building for our seminary. How were the field workers treated on this property? Before it was cultivated, this part of the California Central Valley was run by Basque sheep herders. Prior to that, it was a grassland home to the Mono nation of Native Americans. How were these people treated when their land was colonized? How did events here lead to southwest Fresno becoming known as the "poor part of town where Latinos and Southeast Asians live?" How did the agricultural past of this valley lead it to be such an environmentally damaged land, starved of water and clean air?
Justice and the holy worship of God in the present has to deal with the sins of the past.
Not only do we have to deal with the sins of our fathers, we have to understand that the way we experience the world today emerges from a long series of previous events. My theological ideas sit on two thousand years of Christians wrestling with what it means to declare that there is one God who incarnated, lived, was crucified and resurrected in Jesus. My whiteness is a socially constructed concept that developed out of--among more positive things--several hundred years of white people exerting unjust power people of color. Simply stated, the history of our world matters if we are to understand and act appropriately in the present.
Finally, history is full of the saving action of God. Christianity is unique in that our faith is not based on a direct revelation of truth, but on God's actions throughout time. We see God active for his people and for justice in the "salvation story" of Israel. And, of course, we see God in history most clearly through the life of Jesus. For followers of Jesus, our present only makes since in terms of God's past activities that reveal his heart and liberating power.
However, the present is only partially understood through the past. As Christians, we have hope that this whole world is headed somewhere. There is an end to history--known as the "eschaton"--that brings meaning to our roles in this moment. It is a day when Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead. When we will be divided into sheep and goats based on our service to "the least of these." It is a day when our prayers shall be answered, because all shall be "on earth as it is in heaven." It is a day when the great and beautiful city will descend and all the nations of the earth will worship God in their own language, when every knee shall bow to the true Lord, and every tear will be wiped away. It will be a day of shalom.
The end reveals to us what God values, what he will recreate the world to be. As his followers, we share his values and live a life of love which inaugurates the eschatological New Creation today.
(this picture was inspired by Paulo Freire in Education for Critical Consciousness)
These five maps provide the best representation of the many contexts within which our human stories play out that I have been able to come up with. I hope you found this introduction helpful. We'll go much deeper in the days ahead. For now, as I continue to unpack my concept of following Jesus, I would encourage you to think about how each element of discipleship plays out in your personal places, environments, social worlds, stories and faith communities.