Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Good Stuff from Mark Driscoll


On churches and how they ought to be like families, and why sometimes they don't feel that way.

This, of course, is one side of the story. There are other sides. Sometimes churches haven't quite learned to function like families, sometimes they have cliques that function like families whilst leaving others out, and sometimes they are a bunch of people collected around a particular style, set of doctrines or a personality.

There are things that can be done, both from the side of the individual and the side of the church, to bring about the family Christ intends, whether the church is small, medium or large.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

How Heaven Is Like an Idealized City

Okay, so Tim Keller's comment on my last post got me thinking....

In Revelation, the vision we are given of the eternal kingdom is that of a resplendent city. John, in recounting his vision, strains at the limits of his understanding and of human language to describe what he sees, "The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, clear as glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel...and the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass...and the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light and its lamp is the Lamb...and there will be no night there. (Rev 21).

One wonders how a first century man, as John was, would describe a modern city. How would he describe the Chrysler Building or the Hancock Building in Chicago? What would he think of street lamps --ancient cities were dark, and today's cities are permanently alight? No night in the modern city. Concrete and asphalt would seem a wonder compared to streets of dust. I am not arguing that John saw twenty-first century Manhattan, I simply find the thought intriguing.

How is heaven like an idealized city? Not the modern, cookie cutter oversized inconvenient office park cities of recent vintage, but the grand old industrial and financial center cities. Think Chicago, Pittsburgh, New York, or Detroit in its glory days. How might heaven be like those, shorn of avarice, crime, sexual sin, and corruption?

  • Cities are beehives of productivity. In the same building, you will find CEO's who command multi-million dollar salaries and fast food workers making minimum wage, and all of them are busy, busy, busy, making the economy of a city hum. Heaven is not a place of indolence --my father works, and I work. Part of being in the image of God is being productive.
  • Cities are multi-cultural. Since the late nineteenth century, the nations have poured in to North American cities. The mix of languages and cultures at the same mingling together and retaining their distinctiveness, add zest to the city. Heaven will be the gathering place of the redeemed of all the nations.
  • Cities are built to impress. I love Chicago, because it got a chance to "do over" after a great fire, and they did it right. Chicago is built on a swamp. After the fire, the city fathers elevated the city, so now all utility and garbage collection happens on lower level streets, below the sidewalks. You don't share the street with garbage in Chicago. They reversed the flow of the Chicago River away from Lake Michigan out of sanitary concerns: they drank Lake Michigan water. Brilliant. City of Big Shoulders indeed. Steel girders and human ingenuity gave us the skyscraper, and skyscrapers convey wealth, beauty, and ingenuity. Many of them are iconic: Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning, the aforementioned Hancock and Chrysler buildings, etc. Heaven is clearly built to impress us with the ingenuity and wisdom of God.
  • Cities are cultural centers. They are repositories of the best of cultural artifacts. Go to Chicago and see their incredible Monet collection. The Guggenheim Museum in New York is itself a work of art. There are public art installations, and theaters on every corner. Great symphonies reside in great cities. Great temple-like building are built to house them. Everything is lavish and done well. Heaven is the abode of he who does all things well, the Author of beauty and music.
  • Cities are endlessly interesting. There are always new diverse neighborhoods to explore. My wife grew up in Pittsburgh, and yet we are still discovering new neighborhoods and new things to do --and Pittsburgh is certainly far from the largest of cities. Heaven will have an infinite number of fascinating things to explore.
  • Cities gather up impressive people. Imagine what it takes to build a building in a city, with its maze of regulations, unions and challenging property. Then, think of Donald Trump. The Donald is a master of self-promotion, and I am sure there are better real estate minds, but he is the one that everyone knows. The brain flow goes toward the cities --they are places of great universities, and great minds, and great things happen there on a massive scale. Heaven will be full of impressive people --not those that impressed the eyes of the world when they were here, but those through whom God did great things, often in secret, while they were here.
  • Cities provide for every human need. Imagine the massive amounts of water needed for a city. Imagine what is needed to eliminate rainwater from the streets of a city. Imagine the emergency services needed. Imagine the amount of food that must flow into a city, the amount of electricity and other forms of power. Imagine the information superstructure that flows through cables --the massive interconnection of computers and telephones. Transportation, sustenance, sanitation, rescue, entertainment are provided by the city in spades. Heaven will be the fulfillment of all our needs, and all our sanctified wants.
Much more could be said. We are looking for a celestial city, and I am longing to see it!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

How Heaven Is Like a Small Town

There is a tendency to idolize both one's upbringing and the small town, and it is not my intention to do that. I know full well the ugly side of small town life: the provincialism, the petty infighting, the divisions, etc. I also know that the small town itself is dead or dying in many places. It is the rare small town today that is a self-contained society, with a vibrant communal life and commercial and career opportunities.

When I was younger, I could not wait to get away from the small town. I grew up in a small town not too far from Grand Rapids, a mid-sized city. My parents had moved away from the city before I was born, seeking a smaller town in which to raise their family. My cousins and grandparents lived in Grand Rapids, and I was always curious about that life. Everything was so convenient. My cousin and I could ride our bikes to a convenience store. There were restaurants and movie theaters. As I got older, I discovered the cultural life there. I loved trips as a young child to the big downtown department stores, which have since perished.

Being from a small town, and now living in a suburb, I have discovered they are two very different things. Small towns are far enough from cities to have their own community life, while the suburb leeches off the city. No, heaven is not like a suburb. We live in one of the best suburbs I could ever imagine, and yet I profoundly hope that heaven is different than the suburb.

It is hard to imagine heaven being like a megalopolis either. We are told to look for the city that has foundations, which is a new Jerusalem...Jerusalem, like a city that is compact together. Even Rome, the largest city of the ancient era, was scarely larger than Grand Rapids. I'm with Jacques Ellul on this one --cities can dehumanize, as much as I love to visit them and experience them. Probably community used to happen in cities, but I sense that probably met its demise with the death of self-sufficient neighborhoods, which were like small towns within cities.

Being from a small town gives one a sense of place. You knew who you were in a small town, and other people did, too. You were somebody's child, who want to this or that church, and had this or that teacher. All the spheres of your life overlapped: some of the people you saw at church were those you saw at school, you worked for people who knew your parents, life centered on family, church, school and community events. You had a sense of place, a feeling of belonging. There was life there, and it was lived, not in isolation, but community.

My graduating class had about 65 people. We were not all friends. We did not all get along. There were pecking orders and popularity contests. It all seems so petty now --because it was. Yet, you knew everyone, for good and bad, you were bound together.

This is how heaven is like a small town, though shorn of sin and pettiness: everyone there stands in intimate, unbroken community forever. They all go to the same places. They all do things together. You know and are known. There is no anonymity, no isolation.

Lewis said heaven felt more like home than any earthly home. I'm looking forward to that.