Living Responsibly in the Kingdom of God
Christian Values in a Global Community is a course in which we learn about issues of injustice, have reflected on the teachings of our classes and experiences at Bluffton University, and get challenged to think about ways to engage in the global community. The mission statement of Bluffton University asserts that Bluffton University is preparing students “for responsible citizenship, for service to all peoples and, ultimately, for the purposes of God’s universal kingdom” (Trollinger 3). The questions now are, whom does the global community include, and how can we live responsibly within the kingdom of God? We have received a command to love God and love our neighbor by participating in Christ’s ministry of reconciliation, bringing justice to our local and global community through discovery, service, and respect.
In Mark 12.28-34, Jesus is asked what the first or the most important commandment is, to which he replies, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength,” and “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk 12.30-31, NRSV). This command to love God and to love one’s neighbor is explicit, but what are less clear are the answers to questions such as who is a “neighbor” and how one must show love. Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, found in Luke 10.25-37, provides a response to these questions; the neighbor to the man who was robbed, stripped, and beaten was “The one who showed him mercy” (Lk 10.37a). Jesus then gives the command to “Go and do likewise” (Lk 10.37b), which is a similar command John the Baptist gave to the crowds who asked him, “What then should we do?” (Lk 3.10). Luke 3.11 continues, “In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’” These passages give imperative commands to love God and love our neighbor in real, physical ways—demonstrated through acts of selfless service—as well as implications for the global community. First, the term “neighbor” is inclusive of all people, not just reserved for close friends and family but reaching globally. Second, the question, “What then should we do?” suggests that God calls all people to love as a community, not just as an individual effort. Living in community—including the global community—is an important aspect of being a follower of Christ, and is just as essential as showing love for God and for others through selfless service.
Discipleship is another important part of the Christian life. In my Discipleship and Mentoring class this semester, we have identified a disciple of Christ as someone who represents Christ within community and seeks after God by maintaining a Christ-like lifestyle to the point of sacrifice, giving up this world with the hope of a new kingdom. Living as a disciple of Christ means reflecting the life of Jesus, who has given us a “ministry of reconciliation” and has called us to be “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor 5.17-20). Representing Christ to others within the global community is not only spiritual, but also physical in the sense that our lives take place “inescapably in the world,” which is the same way that Wendell Berry describes the relationship between creation and the act of eating (201). Our ministry of reconciliation must extend the love, justice, peace, and healing of Jesus’ ministry, which once can embody through actions of service, sharing, showing mercy, and perhaps very literally by feeding and clothing anyone without food or clothes. In the book, Everyday Justice, author Julie Clawson urges us to be active participants in seeking justice, but also writes, “’Doing something’ doesn’t have to be big or dramatic; sometimes it can be simple steps that help make life better for the neighbors Jesus instructed us to love” (82). Adopting a lifestyle that embodies Christ’s love for God and for neighbor allows justice to become a natural outcome flowing from this life into the global community.
In order to live a life of discipleship within the global community, one must embrace the local community. The “local community” in my life right now includes Bluffton University, the town of Bluffton, and my hometown of Orrville, Ohio; however, one’s definition of community must not become restricted solely by the idea of a rural Midwest hometown. One can find community nearly anywhere in the world; therefore, the love and justice flowing from a life of discipleship should be everywhere one finds community. In keeping with the four enduring values of Bluffton University, “discovery, community, respect and service” (Trollinger 3), I have developed three proposals for enhancing and sustaining the local community that have the potential to contribute to the global community.
The first proposal is one of “discovery,” which involves learning about issues of injustice and about our global neighbors. In this stage, it is important to recognize what is being done within the local community that is good as well as what could be improved. For instance, it is good that Bluffton is a Fair Trade town, but not everyone within Bluffton understands what this means, and not all stores market fairly-traded goods. Education is a key element for beginning movements towards justice because one’s local community must be informed of injustice within the global community before they can act upon the injustice. Answering the question, “Who is my neighbor?” is also important because it demonstrates that there are people across the world that one may never meet, yet one’s actions and decisions can affect another’s life either positively or negatively. There are numerous modes of communicating this proposal at Bluffton University, such as through class lectures, forums, and the cross-cultural program, but other communities may not have the same outlets for public awareness and education. I propose that teachers (of all grade levels) include a “global awareness” aspect of their curriculum; teachers could encourage students to read or watch the world news, to present a report about another culture, or to see a film such as T-Shirt Travels, Black Gold, or Paradise Now. One could offer other events for exploring issues of injustice to the community as a whole by inviting speakers to churches, schools, parks, or other publicly-advertised forums for discussion.
A second proposal involves “service,” demonstrating love and peace to one’s local community. This is the dynamic movement within a community that brings about visible change through peaceful actions; selfless service is not a passive calling. Gandhi is an example of someone whose revolution of love and nonviolence was equally, if not more, effective than others who have led violent revolutions. He believed in the concept of ahisma (nonharm), which is not passive resistance but “positive love, the commitment to resist evil and do good to all unconditionally, even to the wrongdoer” (Cortright 67). Service within community can take on many different shapes, but I have learned through my Spiritual Disciplines class that to serve as a disciple of Christ involves being selflessly humble and willing to sacrifice everything. One can enact the definition of service in part by practicing simplicity, which is “an inward reality that results in an outward lifestyle,” one that is free from the attachment to material things (Foster 38). By practicing a mission-centered, discipleship lifestyle of service and simplicity, individuals can outwardly affect their community in positive ways.
A final proposal revolves around the idea of “respect,” which one can show by developing healthy relationships within the local and global communities. As I learned in my Christian Missions class, developing relationships involves an appropriate amount of mutuality, trust, understanding, and willingness to learn. Whether across the street or across cultures, friendship is vital for service (either being served or serving others) and discovery (both learning and teaching one another). I experienced the need for developing strong, healthy relationships while I was in Bolivia on my Cross-Cultural. Our group took a tour of Word Made Flesh, a ministry that forms friendships with prostitutes in the red-light district of the Altiplano, offering them warm meals, a place to stay, and an alternative means of living by making purses. The women that come to Word Made Flesh do not get treated with an “us versus them” mentality, but they have the opportunity to develop genuine relationships with a sense of purpose and mutual trust. Another important part of cultivating relationships based on respect is the practice of being present and engaged. One must focus on the conversation between friends, giving one’s full attention to the other person and offering meaningful responses. These types of relationships are meant to reflect Jesus’ healing ministry: according to our class discussions, “salvation” is related to “health,” and it takes appropriate connectedness to others to be completely healthy (Sider 9/21). Respecting others within community by building healthy, engaging, and mutual relationships can help sustain a community’s commitment to work towards peace and justice.
We have received a command to love God and love our neighbor, which we may practice by living a life of discipleship as ambassadors for Christ with a ministry of reconciliation. This is not only an individual calling but a command given to (and for) the global community. In order to enhance and sustain one’s local community, therefore bringing justice to the global community, one must actively participate in discovery, service, and respect. It is important to learn about other cultures and the injustices that so many people face. Being aware of these issues allows us to perform physical acts of selfless service and live a life of peace and simplicity. Living a life of peace also promotes respect, where we can develop healthy and engaging relationships based on mutual trust. Followers of Christ who embody these values within community will be able to live responsibly within God’s kingdom, serving others in love.
Berry, Wendell. “The Pleasures of Eating.” LAS 400: Christian Values in a Global Community: Fall and Spring 2010-2011. Littleton, MA: Tapestry Press, 2010.
Clawson, Julie. Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009.
Cortright, David. “Grasping Gandhi.” LAS 400: Christian Values in a Global Community: Fall and Spring 2010-2011. Littleton, MA: Tapestry Press, 2010.
Foster, Richard. “The Discipline of Simplicity.” LAS 400: Christian Values in a Global Community: Fall and Spring 2010-2011. Littleton, MA: Tapestry Press, 2010.
The HarperCollins Study Bible (NRSV). Ed. Harold Attridge, Rev. ed. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006.
Sider, Alex. “Salvation and Health.” Bluffton University, Bluffton, OH. 21 September 2011. Class Discussion.
Trollinger, Gayle. “Introduction to Christian Values in a Global Community.” LAS 400: Christian Values in a Global Community: Fall and Spring 2010-2011. Littleton, MA: Tapestry Press, 2010.