Jesus is the Mystery of God revealed 2000 years ago in a Jewish man from Galilee, my Lord and Savior. His incarnation, bodily life, Kingdom launching ministry, crucifixion and resurrection laid the template for human life and culture. Theology and ministry orient on him, and it is in Christ that we find the source of liberation and reconciliation: the wellspring of shalom.
How to capture in words something so beautiful it demands art? Shalom is the outcome of all things in right relationship to one another, which might be another way of saying shalom is the fruit of love. Shalom implies a state beyond justice and equity, a world where all creation is flourishing and abundant. It is an all embracive peace, the outcome of liberation, reconciliation and salvation.
When we follow Jesus, we're following the marginalized: a poor guy from an insignificant part of an already obscure region who associated himself with folks that were oppressed and pushed to the fringe of society (women, the disabled, "sinners" like tax collectors and prostitutes, the poor, etc.). It's the vulnerable and historically oppressed who have the final say on whether or not shalom actually exists. And if that's true, they also have a preferential perspective on Jesus and theology. The most vital Christian posture for people of privilege today is one of solidarity.
In the beginning, God created places: the heavens and the earth. A place-based orientation is both a way to look at the world and an approach to change-making. Place is the physical site where all things -- from bodies to public policy, to ecosystems, to ideas -- intersect and interact. It's an integrated framework that lets us value and tend to the entire community of creation without exclusion. Place reverses the Platonic/Modern urge to make everything "real" into an abstraction. Injustice is never abstract. It is a flesh, soil, and bones condition. Place provides us with a concrete starting point for change and community.
At the beginning, middle, and end of discipleship to Jesus, there is relationship. Loving relationship, modeled on the Trinity, is the ground of shalom and the means to a more beautiful future. Relationship is interpersonal, but the world connects in many more ways than neighbor to neighbor, vital as that is. Relationships exist between neighborhood and neighborhood, city and countryside, street and building, justice systems and racial groups, corporations and legislation, and infinitely more. All of these contribute to the wellbeing of a place and must be cultivated with and for love.
To get serious about relationships and social change, we need to understand how systems (from families to the political economy) actually work. The biggest paradigm shift in the last century is the turn from Newtonian, mechanistic views of the world to a holistic, ecological perspective. Systems thinking moves us from a focus on parts to wholes, from studying a subject in isolation to an emphasis on the relationships between subjects. As we better understand how systems function, we get deeper insight into leverage points for change.
Like a tree that grows ancient, we needs deep roots to sustain ourselves in action. The contemplative life grounds us in humble dependence on God. Through spiritual practices we learn to listen and receive guidance from the spirit. We're able to reflect on our experiences and maintain a learner's posture. We discover our own poverties of spirit, and our need for the wisdom marginalized people can offer. We come to embrace the tensions and contradictions of life, and to be sustained in the long struggle against evil. Ultimately, prayer leads us into the union with God through which we can, bit by bit, die to the self formed by histories and cultures of oppression and enter into a new self found in Christ.
The narratives that shape how we see the world determine how we create the world: how we relate to others, how we run businesses, how we structure a justice system, immigration policy or an economy. If you change a people's story, you spark change at a system's deepest level. While America's guiding narratives need a dramatic overhaul, the Christian imagination needs deep renewal and revision as well. Too often, the warped story we've held taught us to contribute to and even initiate the oppression of others. This is a challenge of theology.
The city is at the middle of my work, and I think you can safely say it's in the middle of twenty-first century history. As the city goes, so will go the health of the planet. But what I've come to call 'urban hubris' is the enemy of that health. Those who believe the city is the only thing that matters forget that the life of a city depends on and is interconnected with rural and wild places. We need urban ministers, urban theology, and urban places that properly locate ourselves in this web of relationships.
It's through discipleship that lives become centered on Jesus, that the gospel story transforms our goals and values, that God's mission for shalom becomes our mission, that we learn to live in dependence on the Father. For a society to transform, the individuals who comprise and design that society need to be transformed. This is at the center of the Church's role.
Placemaking is a community led design process for reshaping a neighborhood, park, street, town square, or other public space into a place of life, health and shared value for it's residents. It provides a powerful strategy for not only making a disinvested neighborhood more economically vibrant, but also improving community health, social connections, public art and generally making a place more fun.
Asset-Based Community Organizing (ABCD) guides a marginalized community to recognize the incredible strengths, skills, and capital it already contains. The community can then leverage those resources to build their own future. "Grassroot organizing" helps a community unite to identify shared problems, imagine a better alternative, and hold public or private leaders accountable to make that hope into reality. "Faith-rooted organizing" recognizes that a Christian's theological and spiritual commitments should determine the goals and methods for seeking systemic change.
"Community wealth building is a systems approach to economic development that creates an inclusive, sustainable economy built on locally rooted and broadly held ownership." It enables marginalized members of a community to build institutions like social enterprises, cooperatives, local food systems, community banks, and land trusts that distribute wealth equitably. These institutions become the building blocks of an alternative economy designed for justice and sustainability.
* In broad strokes. Don't pigeon hole me :)