Jesus followers have always been called to be in this world, but not of this world. We have been challenged to ‘not conform to the patterns of this world’. At one point we are reminded that we are part of the commonwealth of the heavens. One of my favorite descriptions of the early church gives the following picture of those Jesus followers,
For Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country or language or customs. They do not live in cities of their own; they do not use a peculiar form of speech; they do not follow an eccentric manner of life.. . . .Yet, although they live in Greek and barbarian cities alike, as each man’s lot has been cast, and follow the customs of the country in clothing and food and other matters of daily living, at the same time they give proof of the remarkable and admittedly extraordinary constitution of their own commonwealth. They live in their own countries, but only as aliens. (“Letter to Diognetus” chapter 5)
Aliens, not of this world, not conforming … this describe rhythms of living that will look markedly different than the culture around us. I often ask, “what is different about our community?”, “how are we living a counter-rhythm?”
Later in this same letter – the author states that,
To put it simply: What the soul is in the body, that Christians are in the world.
So here we see that the alien, not of this world, not conforming acts as a mode of living that enhances the world. It becomes the soul of the place.
I find this deeply attractive.
Recently I read another of Emmanuel Katongole’s essays entitled: Christianity, Tribalism, and the Rwandan Genocide. In it he expounds on a concept he attributes to Sallie McFague. It is called “Wild Spaces”.
Katongole reflects on the genocide in Rwanda and notes that,
“To be sure, it is not exactly clear how such marginal existence can be recovered by Christians in our time, especially when Christians find themselves in predominantly Christian countries like Rwanda. I suggest that as a start it might be good for Christians to give up the impression that they have a stake in the development of a “Christian nation,” and instead focus on allowing the church to become a “wild space” within, or at the margins of, the dominant culture.”
Like Rwanda, South Africa is also predominantly a Christian country (in statistics at least). I also resonate deeply with Katongole’s insistence that one should give up on the notion of a “Christian nation”, ala Angus Buchan phenomena.
Katongole describes those wild spaces are places where the skills are developed wherein people live rhythms and lives that “do not fit the stereotypical human being or the definition of the good life as defined by conventional culture”. He also notes that this kind of life is “not the province of a self-sufficient way of life ‘outside’ Western capitalist and consumer society. Rather, wild spaces are created or discovered in the rifts of that very culture.”
He explains that one is to imagine a circle with conventional Western culture and then another circle imposed over it. It also is crucial to remember that the spaces are created in community. Katongole quotes McFague,
‘If you are [a] poor Hispanic lesbian, your world will not fit into the conventional Western one. It will overlap somewhat (you may be educated and able-bodied), but there will be a large crescent that will be outside. That is your wild space; it is the space that will allow—and encourage—you to think differently, to imagine alternative ways of living. It will not only give you problems, but possibilities.’
Thinking about these ‘wild spaces’ have become really exciting to me. I believe these ‘wild spaces’ are what we’re encouraged to live into when Jesus teaches us to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
In South Africa and specifically in Johannesburg, I think these wild spaces can be created by exploring new imaginations; especially in challenging conceptions of race, class association and money. This is the work of the church.
The large crescent outside : race, money and class association + …..?
Problems: when we live into these alternatives it challenges old assumptions and previously ingrained habits.
Possibilities: because it will allow and encourage communities to imagine differently.
What do you think can help us create and discover “wild spaces”?