Exiles - Michael Frost

Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture
Author: Michael Frost
Publisher: Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Pub., 2006
333 pages


Brian McLaren writes that “this book is for exiles: Christians who find themselves caught in that dangerous wilderness between contemporary secular Western culture and an old-fashioned church culture of respectability and conservatism. Frost pleads for such Christians to embrace a dynamic, life-affirming, robust faith that can be lived confidently in a world that no longer values such a faith.”

While neither Frost nor McLaren reference the idea, I was later reminded of a concept from biological science: the ecotone.

“An ecotone is an edge betwen two different ecosystems, a place of great diversity, of greater life and death than the more static populations of single ecosystems. It is a place where borders are crossed, where animals live differently and more dangerously than they do on their safer home turfs.”

Mike is most recently the co-author with Alan Hirsch of “The Shaping of Things to Come,” one of the must read books of the past five years. He is also professor of evangelism and missions at Morling College in Sydney, Australia. Mike wrote me a few weeks ago and asked if I would be interested in reviewing EXILES.

When the book arrived I pondered the wisdom of my agreement. At 333 pages, this is a lengthy read. I read the first chapter the next day, and began to get excited. Mike has divided the book into four parts, structured around four concepts offered by Walter Brueggemann in Cadences of Home. In that work Brueggemann offers “disciplines of readiness.” He frames it like this:

I imagine that like Israel, our American history has run its course in three moves from land yearning to land abusing to land losing, or conversely from sovereign promise to sovereign demand to sovereign absence. Now, in our wonderment, bafflement, and sometimes despair, we wonder if the plot has run out, or if like in our ancient paradigm, a new word can be uttered about God’s stunning newness.

Of course we do not know if such a word can be spoken. We cannot coerce such a word from God, for the word is sovereign in freedom as in newness. Nor could we silence such a word if it were uttered. We can, however, at the sorry end of our present narrative, consider our readiness and prepare ourselves for the utterance of such a word. For that reason we need disciplines of readiness, acts to be undertaken with intentionality and discipline, to leave us ready if God should make new moves among us. This new readiness should permit a rethinking of what exiles must do that usually is not done by preexilic people. This new beginning is a new circumstance, not easily acknowledged by old-line and mainline faith, a circumstance that permits and requires fresh disciplines. From the assertion of the gospel in Isaiah 40-55, I suggest six such disciplines of readiness that are crucial for the receiving of God’s newness and for converting exile into homecoming. (118)

• DANGEROUS MEMORIES reaching back to Abraham and Sarah. Israel was tempted to substitute more reasonable and respectable memories rather than embrace the ambiguity and embarrassment of such messy heroes.

• DANGEROUS CRITICISM that mocks the deadly Empire. We need two kinds of critique. First, we need an ongoing religious critique of the tamed gods of the Empire (commercialized Christianity). Second, we need the political critique of entrenched power, wherever we find it.

• DANGEROUS PROMISES that imagine a shift of power in the world. The kingdom of God will come. The poem of Isa.54:1-3 is first despairing, but then affirms a wild and outrageous hope.

• DANGEROUS SONGS that predict unexpected newness of life. We sing a new song and affirm a reality we have not fully experienced. Worship is a political statement.

• DANGEROUS BREAD free of all imperial ovens. The food God gives is reliable. Hardness of heart comes when we think the Empire controls all the resources.

• DANGEROUS DEPARTURES of heart and body and mind, leavings undertaken in trust and obedience. Israel looked forward to a time of freedom from exile. Similarly, we need to imagine a time when we leave behind consumerism, ambition, and militarism for other territory.

• DANGEROUS ACKNOWLEDGEMENT of how life really is. Our God is good; but He is not safe. We sometimes cry out for the elusive Presence, and acknowledge like the early Apostle that we are “hungry and thirsty, homeless and ill treated.”

Frost’s thesis is that Christendom has collapsed. He quotes Stuart Murray that “post-Christendom is the culture that emerges as the Christian faith loses coherence within a society that has been definitively shaped by the Christian story and as the institutions that have developed to express Christian convictions are in decline.” (Murray, Post-Christendom, 19)

Naturally, this is a matter of deep grief for many. For others, most of those who will read this review, it is also a moment of profound hope. We can rediscover ourselves as exiles, as a missional movement. Brueggemann offers his disciplines as a way for exiles to maintain a faithful witness in an alternative community.. or communitas.. an alternative culture. Frost will expand on the first four in the list above. He summarizes his approach in pages 15-24, then closes with the call to be generously angry, relating the story of George Orwell. Orwell began as a depressed, withdrawn writer who discovered the storys of Charles Dickens. He emerged as a man with a purpose, committed to exposing injustice and untruth, full of vision and ideals. Frost concludes that the work of the exile is not the discovery of a new gospel, but a rediscovery of the life of Jesus. Chapter two looks at Jesus the exile, and chapter three shows how we follow Him… these are our dangerous memories.

Chapters two and three take us on a tour of “dangerous memories.” On pages 28-77 we follow Jesus, the radical and subversive, into exile.

Frost begins by noting that Jesus lived an ordinary life. He was born in an ordinary way, and lived in a real world of ordinary Jewish people (under Roman occupation). Frost notes that the earliest creeds recognize Jesus humanity, while the later creeds (Nicene and Athanasian) become very philosophical (true light of true light, very God of very God). It’s tough to follow such a Jesus, though we can worship Him as God.

The bulk of chapter two is a discussion of tables — how appropriate for our carpenter King! In eastern culture tables and meals are the center of life. Frost retells the many meal stories of the gospels.. Simons’ table (Luke 7:36-50), the disciples take-out snack (luke 6), the meal with Zaccheus and the wedding table at Cana. He concludes that the Christian communion table is not a holy, untouchable artifice, but a feasting place — a place to enjoy the presence of the one who eats and drinks with us. Frost then looks at two portraits of Jesus at table by the Italian painter Caravaggio (1601 and 1606). In the later painting Caravaggio includes another person, and the painting has a completely different feel. Jesus is no longer distant from the world but immersed in it.. in its joy and its pain. I am reminded of an ancient confession: “What Christ has not borne, Christ has not redeemed.” We are sent into the world as Jesus was sent.

Chapter three expands on our incarnational task. To be incarnational requires immersion.. but not accommodation. When we become indistinct from our culture, we can no longer offer an alternative, or any critique of Empirical myth. When our imaginations are captured by the Empire, and today is all there is, then we have forgotten our most dangerous memories and the dangerous promises of God’s future. Frost notes that an incarnational life requires us to relinquish our own desires and interests for the sake of others. He sees four dimensions to incarnational witness:

1. an active sharing of life, participating in the fears, frustrations, and afflictions of the host community

2. an employment of the language and thought forms of those with whom we seek to share Jesus.

3. a preparedness to go to the people, not expecting them to come to us

4. a confidence that the gospel can be communicated by ordinary means, through acts of service, love, good deeds…

Frost recalls Ray Oldenburg’s concept of “third places” (The Great Good Place, 1989). Oldenburg maintains that third places.. coffee shops, community centers, bars, hangouts, etc.. are crucial to a community for the following reasons:

  • * they are distinctive informal gathering places
  • * they make the citizen feel at home
  • * they nourish relationships and a diversity of human contact
  • * they help create a sense of place
  • * they invoke civic pride
  • * they promote companionship
  • * they allow people to relax and unwind after work
  • * they are socially binding
  • * they encourage sociability instead of isolation
  • * they make life more colorful
  • * the enrich public life and democracy

Oldenburg sees the “first” place as our home and those we live with. Our second place is the workplace — where we spend most of our days. But third places anchor community life and offer the benefits that come with broader interaction. All societies have informal meeting places. Oldenburg sees the essential ingredients as follows:

  • * they must be free or inexpensive
  • * food and drink, while not essential, are important
  • * they must be highly accessible
  • * they must be proximate for many (walking distance)
  • * they should involve regulars - those who habitually hang there
  • * they should be welcoming and comfortable
  • * both new friends and old should be found there (58)

Frost argues that third places arethe most significant places for Christian mission because in them people are less guarded, more open to meaningful conversation. We entere our houses by driving discreetly into the garage, our kids play in private yards enclosed by fences. We tend to have only perfunctory conversation with neighbors. The home is less and less a place for proximity and intimacy (see also Myers discussion of hte missing front porch in “The Search to Belong”). Similarly, the workplace tends to make relationships functional and not personal.

It’s in third places where we let down our guard, and where core issues of life are likely to be part of conversation. No wonder Jesus took such an interest in third places. Frost tells a number of stories worldwide about third places that are missional spaces, then notes that in the old Christendom model believers are far too busy in their protected spaces and church meetings to be in third places. “Exiles have realized that they are to practice the presence of Christ right there under people’s noses, where the aroma of Jesus can be sensed.” (64) The only bible many will ever read will be in the life of a Christian friend.

Frost notes that there were believers through the ages who knew what it was to practice God’s presence in ordinary places, who realized that any space is potentially sacred space. Brother Lawrence sought to maintain a constant awareness of God’s presence, and his practice involved five skills.

* seeking His presence by guarding the heart * seeing His presence in ordinary things by fixing the gaze of the soul on Christ * living His presence by doing all things in love * speaking in God’s presence by offering short prayers to Him * treasuring God’s presence by valuing Him above all (Matthew 6:21)

Frost then moves into a discussion of emptiness. One temptation which the church has not avoided has been to use earthly power to achieve kingdom ends. But as we move from the center to the margins, we are discovering that freedom is found on the margins. Here we are inclined to be honest, because we have no reputation to protect; we are inclined to be generous, because we have no wealth to protect. We are inclined to walk humbly, because we don’t have all the answers. These qualities make it easier to invite others to the journey. Frost closes chapter 3 with a story about loving sacrifice, the gospel demonstrated through the life of a caring man.

Looking back at the first section, I wonder why Mike didn’t include another chapter? Mike clearly makes the connection between Jesus the exile, with his followers also living exilically. But if this is the case, then there have been other exiles throughout history.. those who followed Jesus into exile by not buying into the practices or perspectives of the dominant culture… whether religious or secular.

I think the argument of EXILES would have been strengthened by a chapter that told the story of some of the marginalized Christian movements of history.. in particular, movements which framed their lives around alternative communites: the Celts, the Anabaptists, the Brethren of the Common Life. Yes, their stories have been told and retold.. but they are more relevant now than ever, and viewed through the lens of exile would have added a greater sense of continuity. We must always “begin again,” but others before us have made a similar journey. We stand in a long line of faithful witnesses.

To be fair, this element isn't entirely missing. The example of Brother Lawrence is given in chapter 3, and Benedict in chapter 6. But we need examples of missional movements - exiles who found communitas around shared purpose, living an alternative way on the edge of the Empire.

On to the second section, chapters 4-8 considering "dangerous promises." Mike notes five promises, and they connect to the five chapter heads as follows:

4. Exiled from a Hyper-Real World
The Promise: We Will Be Authentic

5. The Exile's Esprit de Corps
The Promise: We Will Serve a Cause Greater Than Ourselves

6. Fashioning Collectives of Exiles
The Promise: We Will Create Missional Community

7. Exiles at the Table
The Promise: We Will Be Generous and Practice Hospitality

8. Working for the Host Empire
The Promise: We Will Work Righteously

This section begins on page 81 and stretches to 200, taking up fully 1/3 of the book. Chapter 4 opens with a discussion of simulacra.. we live in a world where "authentic" and "real" are mostly marketing ploys. The church is little different. As Brian McLaren somewhere commented, the more we hear the words "authentic" and "community" the more suspicious we should be.

And perhaps that is why the quest for authenticity is so strong among exiles. We are tired of those who substitute signs of the real for the real. Reality TV is pervasive.. and scripted and unreal. Mike notes Neil Postman's conclustion that the medium of TV is by its very nature unable to convey complexity and seriousness and thus incapable of sustaining true public discourse (87).

Mike follows with a comment on blogging as "hyper-reality." He notes that, "what all blogs have in common is the host's/author's basic belief that his or her life or thoughts about life are worth sharing... It's either the most astonishing universal display of narcissism or the most liberating opportunity for the ordinary and everyday to be celebrated." (88) Bang on. Mike worries that at another level it is an expression of hyper-reality: it looks like we're meeting people via the Web, but really we're meeting only the persona that they choose to display. Sometimes. Many bloggers try to move beyond this level by sharing our own shadows, but our success varies as does our motivation. Mostly my own motivation comes from a conviction that truth divorced from experience is less than truth. I attempt to bring something incarnational to my voice by sharing a personal dimension when appropriate... storying and contextualizing my beliefs. As for narcissism, not long ago we watched DERRIDA the Movie. In the film he comments on narcissism.

“Narcissism! There is not narcissism and non-narcissism; there are narcissisms that are more or less comprehensive, generous, open, extended. What is called non-narcissism is in general but the economy of a much more welcoming, hospitable narcissism, one that is much more open to the experience of the other as other. I believe that without a movement of narcissistic reappropriation, the relation to the other would be absolutedly destroyed, it would be destroyed in advance. The relation to the other - even if it remains asymmetrical, open, without possible reappropriation - must trace a movement of reappropriation in the image of oneself for love to be possible, for example. Love is narcissistic. Beyond that, there are little narcissisms, there are big narcissisms, and there is death in the end, which is the limit. Even in the experience - if there is one - of death, narcissism does not absolutely abdicate its power.” (see also this interview).

Next Mike documents the emergence of "new realism," and the large group of "cultural creatives" who make up this movement. This group sees the world differently than the mainstream, and are demanding ecological sensitive products, are paying attention to women's issues, insist on authenticity in their relationships, desire a wholistic perspective on spirituality, and are looking to alternative sources for news.

Many in this group are already believers, and new realists share the conviction that spirituality is integral with life. This is why for the most part they avoid churches.. they prefer places of truthfulness, vulnerability, and open process. They don't want the dark side hidden away, and they are comfortable with mystery and paradox. Mike notes that the Psalms are a wonderful prayerbook because they demonstrate the range of human experience and emotion before God. There are no shiny, happy people in the Scriptures.
Given this history, a history of dualism and denial, how do we earn the right to be heard? Powerless is not such a bad thing. Mike notes that when we lack impressive buildings and swollen budgets to might get down to real things and worry about the quality of our relationships. The power of our trustworthiness and the wonder of generosity once made Christianity a credible movement. Our culture is inherently cynical.. only an authentic people can demonstrate an authentic faith.

Mike argues that we need communities that embrace the following values:

* to seek an approach to spiritual growth that values inward transformation over external appearances

* to value a spirituality that seeks not to limit our God-given humanity, creatife, or individuality

* to enjoy from-the-heart, honest dialogues and avoid relationships marked by superficiality and hidden agendas

* to strive to be completely honest with God and appropriately transparent with others

* to seek to welcome back mystery and paradox over easy explanations

* to work to honestly recalibrate our lfiestyles, diets, spending patters and commitments to reflect our hope for a more just, equitable and merciful society

Are there other values you would add? Mike closes with a quote from David Bosch:

"The new fellowship transcends every limit imposed by family, class or culture. We are not winning people like ourselves to ourselves but sharing the good news that in Christ God has shattered the barriers that divide the human race and has created a new community.. a sociological impossibility that has become possible."

The next chapters begin to get to the heart of the matter. (See also Postman, Neil, "Informing Ourselves to Death" )

Recall that Mike has structured the book around Walter Brueggemann's conception of exile, and the disciplines needed to thrive in an exilic time where danger of acccommodation runs high.

"We need disciplines of readiness, acts to be undertaken with intentionality and discipline, to leave us ready if God should make new moves among us. This new readiness should permit a rethinking of what exiles must do that usually is not done by preexilic people. This new beginning is a new circumstance, not easily acknowledged by old-line and mainline faith, a circumstance that permits and requires fresh disciplines." (Cadences of Home, 118)

Chapters 4-8 address dangerous promises that imagine a shift of power in the world. Chapter 4 addressed the promise of authenticity. Chapter 5 addresses the promise of serving a cause greater than ourselves. Chapter 6 will address the promise of creating missional community.

Mike sets the tone for chapter 5: "In an empire of self-centeredness and greed someone must model an alternative: the creation of communities of service, love and justice." (105)

Mike points to Scott Pecks' "The Different Drum" as part of his inspiration, forging a new imagination about what community could be. Mike has been there. As he sought to build a new kind of community, he found the results mixed and short-lived. Could it be something was missing? Eventually he realized that community, like happiness, is something we find when we are aiming for something else. Then through Alan Hirsch he discovered a new word: communitas. (This word also looms large with Alan Roxburgh in The Sky is Falling).

In 1969 Victor Turner penned "Liminality and Communitas." Turner's concept denoted intense feelings of social togetherness and belonging, often in connection with transitional rites and rituals. In communitas, people stand together "outside" society, and society is strengthened by this otherness. The concept is in many ways the opposite of Marx's alienation and is closely related to Durkheim's ideas about the "sacred" (vs. the "profane").

In The Sky is Falling Roxburgh writes that, "Communitas describes a latter, potential phase of Liminality. Communitas is about what can happen to the relationships among a divergent group undergoing discontinuous change together." (102) Roxburgh notes that the embedding of roles in a particular culture contributes to social stability. When the culture shifts and the roles are disembedded, we are thrown into Liminality and anxiety and chaos ensue. People or societies in a liminal phase are a "kind of institutional capsule or pocket which contains the germ of future social developments, of societal change" (Turner, 1982:45).

If normal life is structure, communitas is anti-structure, which describes "not structural reversal.. but the liberation of human capaciteis of cognition, affect, volition, creativity, etc from the normative constraints incumbent upon occupying a sequence of social statuses." (110)

Mike presents a little chart, with community on the left and communitas on the right. Community has an inward focus, its a safe place, and there is something to be built. Communitas creates togetherness outside the main stream, the focus is on a particular task, it pushes society forward, and it is experienced through liminality. Mike concludes that we have talked a lot about community, when what we want and need is communitas. Exiles, because they often find themselves in liminal space, have an opportunity to discover communitas.

While Turner did his work among African tribes, he later began applying his theory to American subcultures such as artists. He notes that, "Prophets and artists tend to be marginal people, "edgemen," who strive with a passsionate sincerity to rid themselves of the cliches associated with status and role-playing and to entere into vital relationships with others in fact or imagination." (116) Whenever a group is thrown into conflict with the mainstream, whether in real battle or in protest, they can find themselves experiencing communitas. Mike quotes Alan Hirsch in The Forgotten Ways:

"Communitas .. is a community infused with a grand sense of purpose: a purpose that lies outside of its current reality and constitution... It involves movement and it describes the experience of togetherness that only really happens among a group engaging in a mission outside itself."

We are sent... purpose is the very lifeblood of the church. Mike concludes the chapter by noting that it is our liminal, missional experiences that contain the seeds of transformation for the church. In standing together outside normal structure, we offer a new kind of strength to the church and new hope for resurrection.

Section II comprises chapters 4-8, addressing dangerous promises that imagine a shift of power in the world. Chapter 4 addressed the promise of authenticity. Chapter 5 addressed the promise of serving a cause greater than ourselves. Chapter 6 addresses the promise of creating missional community. These chapters are really working out a practical ecclesiology, and chapter six forms the center of that discussion. The chapter opens with a quote from G.K. Chesterton: "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found diffiicult and left untried."

Mike begins by noting that exiles have generally had an experience of communitas, and it has generally been outside traditional structures, often in parachurch organizations. Others stepped outside traditional structures and found themselves creating missional communities by accident as they pursued sports, their favorite hobbies or interests. Their love for God and His world flowed through them wherever they found themselves, and churches were born.. but unlike any traditional conception of church. Mike borrows from Pete Ward to describe "liquid church."

"In solid church , faithfulness tends to be equated with attendance; success is measured by numbers; worship and teaching are standardized, producing a bland and inoffensive diet; and membership has become an exclusive and self-serving commitment..." (134)
Liquid church, in contrast, takes its identity from the notion of believers in communication with each other. It is not an institution. It exists in networks of relationships. The basis for church life is found not in buildings, but in spiritual activities. It is church as a verb rather than a noun. It does not have to take the form of a weekly meeeting, but rather worship and meeting are decentered.

Mike then tells about a spontaneous movement of church planting called "the neo-apostolics." The movement is marked by four characteristics:

1. they reject denominationalism and overbearing, central authority
2. they seek a life focused on Jesus
3. they seek a more effective missionary lifestyle
4. they are one of the fastest growing movements in the world.

According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity this group numbers 20,000 movements and networks with a total of 400 million believers worldwide. The majority of this growth is in non-Western countries.

Mike notes that it is humbling to recognize that most of this growth occurs without buildings, seminaries, paid clergy, conferences, books or other resources. (see "church planting without big finances") Could it be that we have learned reliance on technology rather than the Holy Spirit? Mike relates the story of underground Chinese Christian leaders asking for prayer that leadership training could be established and buildings erected. As they spoke, it occurred to those gathered that those restrictions were the very things that forced the Chinese underground church to be the dynamic force it has become. Mike asks, "Why is it so difficult.. in the west.. to imagine being a community of Christ's followers without a building or formally trained and accredited clergy?" He concludes that we cannot fully realize our calling to be the church of Jesus so long as we rely on money, buildings, and paid experts.

Exiles are falling into the cracks between a host Empire that continually intends to subvert their attention, and a church that has eschewed the dangers of the open ocean for the safety of the harbor. We yearn for communitas. But no one will create it for us. Mike calls us to embrace the challenge of fashioning a new kind of people -- attentive to Jesus, caring for the friendless, embracing the big story, missional, liquid .. seeping into the crevices and hidden places of society. (143)

Next Mike asks another five dollar question: when is a bunch actually a church? Mike gets it down to four criteria:

1. Trinitarian in theology
2. Covenantal in expression
3. Catholic in orientation
4. Missional in intent

Mike sees Trinitarian theology as relational, counteracting the individualism of our day. It also respects and learns from otherness, thus negotiating between pluralism and exclusivism. It restores a sense of mystery to God and rejects foundationalist thinking.

Mike devotes much more space to a discussion of the covenant nature of Christian community. He anchors this discussion around Benedict, the sixth-century hermit who founded a monastic order. Benedict's simple plan was to foster households of twelve people each to live together in Christ, supporting each other to live out the teachings of Jesus. Benedict's genius was to spell out a set of rules (73!) that would ensure godly cohesion among the members.

Mike quotes Stuart Murray in Post-Christendom, who suggests that churches could "reimagine themselves as a monastic missionary order, communities of encouragement, support and training from which we emerge to live as Christians in the workplace and to which we return for reflection and renewal." (150) This doesn't mean living in the same building, though that is the form some new churches take. Mike's own church has developed their own simple rule under the acrostic BELLS.

* bless. we will bless at least one other member of our community each day
* eat. we will eat with other members of our community at least three times a week.
* listen. we will commit ourselves weekly to listening to the prompting of God in our lives.
* learn. we will read from the Gospels each week and remain diligent in learning about Jesus
* sent. we will see our daily life as an expression of our sent-ness by God into the world

This last point is explicated in more detail as working against the dualism mindset of Christendom, and includes acts of hospitality as well as working for justice and peace.

Mike notes that to be catholic in the true sense of the word "is to be aware of your place in the universal church, across both time and space. Churching involves a gracious recognition of the small part that our community plays in the millennia-long project of Christian mission." Mike here tips his hat to the Benedictines and Franciscans, the Reformers and the Anabaptists, the Enthusiasts and the Methodists. All were exilic.. all loved the church and banded together to imagine new ways of faithfully following Jesus.

Mike argues that to be missional in intent grows out of a proper Christology, and then forces us to develop the means of a common life. In other words there is a flow from Christology to mission to ecclesiology. Mike closes with a story from his community when his youngest daughter is baptized. He relates how each member of the community brought their own gifts to the process, wonderfully enriching the shared experience of a family on a journey of faithfulness to the purposes of Jesus.

“We need disciplines of readiness, acts to be undertaken with intentionality and discipline, to leave us ready if God should make new moves among us. This new beginning is a new circumstance, not easily acknowledged by old-line and mainline faith, a circumstance that permits and requires fresh disciplines.” (Brueggemann, Cadences of Home, 118)

Chapters 4-8 address dangerous promises that imagine a shift of power in the world. Chapter 4 addressed the promise of authenticity; 5 addressed the promise of serving a cause greater than ourselves; 6 addressed the promise of creating missional community.. a practical ecclesiology. Now we move to chapters 7 and 8, which address two more promises: "we will be generous and practice hospitality," and "we will work righteously," something not easily understood by the host Empire.More...

Chapter 7 is titled "Exiles at the Table." Counter-intuitively, Mike first yanks the table-cloth from the table by discoursing on the deadly sin of gluttony. It's difficult to make a meal a sacred event when it is ultimately secular, and we in North America are often guilty of abusing our bodies while the rest of the world starves. Gluttony is at issue here and also an issue in the New Testament.

Next Mike returns to the story of Joseph and God's provision for Israel.. and for Egypt. Following that discussion we look at Daniel, a vegetarian, and then Paul and the "missional table," in the context of food and the marketplace.. false gods. Each of these exiles contributes a particular lesson. But the center of the story is the table.. whether we eat or drink we do all to the glory of God. "Exiles have freed themselves from the busyness of church activity precisely so that they can share food with their friends, neighbors, and work colleagues in a more mutual fashion. A meal should be an equalizing experience... the exile will be as concerned about creating safe, welcoming places as entering into such spaces created by non-Christians."

Mike spends a page making recommendations about consumption, such as "lower the caffeine," and "eat small meals more often." Then he talks about the power of hospitality in a world where so many are alone or isolated. He tells a story from Rwanda (the open table in the hotel), and then relates a story from Paris, where another open table (and couch) exists in a bookstore in Paris. He closes with "Matthew's Party" in Melbourne, a church created especially for street kids, prostitutes, and the mentally ill.

Chapter 8 is titled "Working for the Host Empire." Exiles are devoted to their work. The chapter opens with the story of disillusioned architect Sambo Mockbee who was tired of the elitism of his profession. He dreamed of housing the poor in stunning new houses. As he toured through poverty-stricken rural areas of the south he was confronted with the need, and sought to find a way to bring cheap housing, but at the same time to confront architectural students with the racial and cultural chasm that existed. He gave up his professional practice and opened Rural Studio.. a socially engaged architectural school. He found a way to engage his work with his sense of vocation.

Because we name God "Father," we all have the position of son in His family. There was a day when sons observed their fathers at work, and usually became apprentices, learning the work as they worked alongside them. As we grow it is God's intention that we come into the family business, making His work our own.

This understanding was lost in the dualism of Christendom, where only specially apointed and trained people are thought to be doing God's work. In Christendom there is sacred work, and secular work. But the Bible knows nothing of such divisions. Mike shares a list from Robert Banks work, "Redeeming the Routines," which demonstrates the observable symptoms of the gap, such as "few of us apply or know how to apply our belief to our work," and "few of us read religious books or attend theological courses." In recent years ministries have grown up around the attempt to close the gap, and many books have been written:

  • Seeing God in the Ordinary . Frost
  • A Theology of Personal Ministry. Gibs and Martin.
  • The Other Six Days. Stevens

Mike notes that God is endlessly creative, and cultural work is therefore relevant. More specifically, God is a namer, and the first task he assigns to Adam in Genesis is naming the animals. Later God gives a new name to Abram, and later still Jacob is renamed Israel (ch.32). To name something may be to call out its destiny, but is also to speak the deepest truth about it.. whether exposing the darkness or the light. And the goal is healing.. restoring people and creation and culture to right relationship to God.. working for peace and justice. Mike relates several more stories, and notes how Sambo brought healing to communities and exposed prejudice. Mike closes with a question from Kierkegaard:

"What is your occupation in life? I do not ask inquisitively about whether it is great or mean.. but.. is it of such kind that you dare think of it together with the responsibility of eternity?"

Chapters 4-8 addressed dangerous promises that imagine a shift of power in the world. Chapters 9-11 move us on to "dangerous criticism." We respond to the Empire with a critique of their oppression of the poor, of women, of the earth. Moreover, we respond with alternative practices.

Chapter 9 is entitled, "Restless with Injustice." This chapter is particularly interesting for Canadians, because Frost is aware of global issues that are immediately impacting our sovereignty.

Frost begins by noting that we have seen terrific responses to environmental crises over the past few years, but that these responses tend to be based on immediate feelings rather than conviction. Alternatively, exiles are being found in the forefront of movements toward changing attitudes and practices. Witness Bono at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland in 2005: "we are the generation that can actually see an end to extreme poverty.." Coinciding with those meetings Nelson Mandela launched the Make Poverty History campaign, calling this generation to greatness. Incredibly, one in five of the world's population live on less than $1 a day.

Frost moves on to talk about the anti-globalization movement and recommends the Canadian documentary The Corporation based on Bakan's book. What is a corporation? "An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility." Using diagnostic criteria from the DSM-IV, the standard diagnostic tool for psychiatry, the corporation is described like this:

an anti-social personality. It is self-interested, inherently amoral, callous and deceitful; it breaches social and legal standards to get its way; it does not suffer from guilt, yet it can mimic the human qualities of caring, empahty and altruism. Four case studies, drawn from a universe of corporate activity, demonstrate harm to workers, human health, animals and the biosphere..." (211)
What's so terrible about big business? Frost catalogs a litany of reasons..

* the recipients of unfair tax breaks
* concerned about the effects of privatization
* causing great environmental damage
* profiting from unfair trade agreements
* contributing to an inequitable global economy (211-219)

Says Linda McQuaig in her book on the new face of capitalism, "The growing power of corporations and the diminishing power of governments these days is usually attributed to mysterious forces operating out there in the global economy, well beyond our control. Here's another possibility: governments are less powerful than they used to be simply because they keep signing trade deals that reduce their power and enhance the power of corporations.." Free trade is global deal-making that reduces our sovereignty in the name of profit for multinational corporations. (218) Currently UPS is suing the Canadian government for $200 million because it thinks the publicly owned postal system is a barrier to the expansion of its interests.
What can we do? Let our voices be heard, take our voting power seriously, access a broader pserspective (drop CNN and FOX news and sub the Guardian or the Independent,) and become aware of how we personally benefit from inequality in the global economy. We need to consider alternatives wherever we can.

Chapter 10 is titled "Exiles and the Earth." The criticism this time.. you have not cared for God's creation. Frost begins by referencing Jared Diamond and noting what others like Ronald Wright have noted: there is strong evidence that many of the great civilizations have fallen because of their over consumption of limited resources. It's time to wake up to issues of sustainability.

Unfortunately, the legacy of Christendom is powerful, and lingers on. Many Christians still believe that they will check out when things get bad.. a la Tim Lahay and "Left Behind." Premillenial eschatology has encouraged the rape of the earth. There isn't much point in caring for creation if we believe it is doomed anyway or has no intrinsic value. Moreover, we have neglected our responsibility as the wealthy in a world of poverty.

Frost then moves to documenting world pollution, and resistance to ecological thinking. He calls us back to a Christian vision of stewardship. On pages 248-249 he gets down to practical suggestions: what can we do at home? in the office? with our cars? He closes the chapter with the basic laws of ecology from Barry Commoner in The Closing Circle: (a summary)

1. everything is connected to everything else..
2. everything must go somewhere: matter is neither created nor destroyed...
3. nature knows best..
4. there is no such thing as a free lunch..

Chapter 11 is titled "Comforting the Oppressed." The criticism: you have not protected God's children. The chapter opens with a series of gruesome stories.. current stories of Christian martyrs. Abuse of human rights continues around the world, particularly in Muslim nations. Frost details some case studies: Darfur and the Maluku Islands (Indonesia). What can be done? It's easy to feel hopeless in the face of such violence and hate.

Mike advocates first opening our eyes; second, developing a theodicy; third, prayer; four, political advocacy; five, providing comfort for victims. Mike then looks at the other side of persecution: the church in China has grown like wildfire. The chapter closes with a quote from Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, passionaltely calling for intervention in Darfur.

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• © 2005 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated on September 9, 2006