The Rutted Road
Imagine trying to ride a bicycle along a road that is deeply scarred by two very sizable ruts carved out from centuries of use. The overall shape of the road, were you to transect it from left to right, is subtly convex with the highest point of the convex surface being directly in the middle between the two deeply cut ruts in the road. As you travel, you might try and remain in between the two ruts, but you would find the effort challenging because the slightly rounded shape of the road in between the ruts creates a tendency to pull you towards one rut or the other depending on your relative position on the road between them. You may notice the tracks of bicycles that have passed before you with each telling a slightly different story: some slide into one of the ruts and seemingly remain there forever. Others fall into one for a while and then pop back out to meander the difficult-to-navigate middle ground before slipping slowly over and into the rut on the other side. All the while, you yourself sense the same struggle to remain in between the ruts while it seems gravity itself wills you into one or the other ruts. And now let us imagine that it begins to rain, and you notice that as water collects on the road that it too – though bearing no will of its own – flows into one or the other ruts depending on where it first fell. At last, you yourself tire and slip into one of the ruts and quite suddenly you find the tiresome labor required to remain outside of the ruts is relieved. Your travel is now easy, smooth, and feels altogether natural and comfortable. Indeed, it seems that all things flow naturally into one rut or the other.
And what is the point of this illustration or allegory? As I perceive it, we all travel like a bicyclist upon a road that is deeply rutted. The road could generally be understood as the prevailing socio-cultural mindset which, while it has slowly changed over the centuries, is so deeply ingrained in us, that we can hardly distinguish it as something we created rather than something that is perfectly normal and natural. Thus the road becomes the means by which we actually filter our perception of reality. You might call it the common ground upon which we all agree is the accurate perception of the world in which we exist. It is the very context in which we believe we live our lives and it provides the compass by which we direct our every action: what we do, what we think, what we say, how we work, how we make our decisions, how we entertain ourselves, and how we interact and discuss and debate issues. It is an agreed upon sense of what is real.
Now, we should recognize that this road is nothing new, rather it is as old as our own humanity and like all old roads, it has been laid down, layer after layer, upon past socio-cultural mindsets, slightly altering and yet maintaining the general underlying forms, like modern asphalt over ancient stone roads. Over many centuries, the road’s shape has indeed morphed, albeit as imperceptible to the human eye as is biological evolution over many millennia. Thus, all the more reason for us to so easily mistake it for reality, rather than merely a 21st century American narrative of reality. And so, the road itself is our present great common denominator - our shared partial-illusion of reality. Ultimately, we believe that everything is a part of the road as surely as grass is green and the sky is blue and only by strained effort can we conceive otherwise.
So, what are the ruts? Just like ruts in actual roads, they are two different paths most frequently traversed – they are the two different dominant routes by which people seek to traverse the road. The ruts that presently are formed in the shared road of our mindsets are of course the familiar polarities by which we currently organize our socio-cultural and political perceptions and understandings. We call them – conveniently enough for my analogy here – the left and the right. The liberal rut of the left-hand side of the road and the conservative rut on the right-hand side of the road. The vast majority of people – whether they would admit it or not – travel within a preferred rut and generally believe that the travelers in the other rut are going the wrong way.
Given the intent of all roads, it is altogether logical for us to ask: where we think this road goes? Utopia comes to mind, though it is more likely paraphrased as simply someplace better than the past. The modern mindset has, since the o-called “enlightenment” moved more and more towards an almost unconscious surrender to philosophical materialism, which has fueled an increasing inclination towards believing that we alone are the force which drives history and change. As such we have a tendency to judge the value of our lives (and the lives of others) as being the degree to which we are able to help push society further down our road. We alone can do this – we convince ourselves– and so we must progress towards a utopia that we envision lies at the end of the road. And while some would doubtless couch the concept in deistic language so as to at least include God in some way, the practical effect is the same: prayer accomplishes nothing, only human action drives history. It is the same mindset which affirms the demonstrably false claim that “those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it.” The reality, it seems to me, is that we learn from history, and then repeat it with fervor and better technology). In times of deep reflection, we may pause and ask ourselves, “Are we really sure we know where this road leads?” This is a moment of doubt in the religion whose creed states that we humans are better now (in just about every way) than ever before and this convenient and chronological narcissistic religious belief convinces us that we are ever headed towards bigger and better things - some sort of grand pinnacle or great crescendo humanity - as long as we follow the path of OUR rut. In so doing, we celebrate ourselves as being “on the right side of history.”
I am going to suggest, however, that the road leads to precisely nowhere. It literally traverses us around in one great big circle for the simple reason that despite our many advances, human nature has never changed – at least not by the force of our own wills. The scenery has changed over the centuries just enough to fool us into believing that we are making progress towards something better, but we are essentially no different than our most distant human ancestors and we’ve no reason to believe we shall ever be any different. We’ve just become more efficient at being the very same human beings we’ve always been and we’ve managed to produce a very thin veneer of advanced civilization which provides us with a semblance of order, comforts and degrees of luxury unheard of in previous cycles along the road. I suppose if one were indeed a strict materialist, then for what more could one possibly wish?
But, the thin veneer of civilization with all of its perceived gifts of rights, justice, and comfort is profoundly fragile, not found everywhere, and collapses with the slightest degree of applied force. And at such times the lesser angels of our nature are no less present now than we imagine them being present in the “dark” ages. The only difference being that today they are readily able to deal violence and horrors on a scale unheard of in previous cycles along the road. Such horrors are often resuscitated in the name of progress or conservation for the greater good as demonstrated by the modern era which has seen violence on a scale that dwarfs the entire sum of history’s efforts towards the same utopia. Violence which has originated from both the left and the right ruts in the form of Stalinist death camps or Hitler’s racist equivalents and two world-wide wars which killed nearly 100 million people. Death and the desire for power still holds as much authority over us as it always has, though we may have delayed the former’s final victory by way of our technological advances and the latter’s overt display by our fragile system of checks and balances. Both are still very much present in our humanity and always will be so.
To be clear, however, my assertions here do not render efforts towards developing a better world useless, the problem that arises is that the road is remarkably successful in seducing us into believing that we are ourselves Atlas supporting the universe upon our shoulders. Modernity’s principle religion of materialist secularism espouses the dogma that we are to move society towards a utopia in which health and wealth will be readily available to all. And this is precisely what cheats us into believing that we MUST frame and devote our minds, time, passion and energies into the important work of trying to push everything into or out of our preferred ruts for the greater good of humanity. We believe with great and almost religious fervor that OUR rut on this road is the one true path to utopia, so much so that even our faith in a Creator and His Kingdom is wrapped up into the fray. We even begin to believe that our religion’s moral teachings are the foundation and fuel for the ruts which we have dug and continue to dig.
So, let us consider our religious faith in this analogy. How does the life and teachings of Christ intersect with and operate on our rutted road? Well, it is simple really: it is the same with ALL THINGS which fall upon the road. As is our “natural” inclination because of our undying belief in the rutted road as the fabric of reality, we take the Church, Christ’s teachings, and even Christ Himself and without even knowing we are doing it, we push them all onto the rutted road – after all, this is the road we travel – should they not also be on this rutted road? How else are we to understand or relate to them, if they are not on our rutted road? For surely, it is imperative that Christianity and the Church be relevant! And as with all things that are placed onto the road, we then push and pull them by the force of our own will to fall distortedly into one or the other ruts: “Where they rightly belong,” we will say. And, of course, the competing ruts each lay claim to being the appropriate rut for Jesus – and sometimes they more boldly claim that the ruts are themselves the fulfillment of Jesus’ teachings - the natural expression of Christian “morality” and “ethics.” But, I suspect that in order for His teachings to more easily fit into either of the ruts, those teachings undergo a metamorphosis of sorts; some teachings fit rather nicely it seems, while others are largely out of place in one rut or the other and are thus either ignored or interpreted through the lens of the road such that they become merely personal or private matters and not something to be expressed as a necessary part of the ruts’ pathways. Both defenders of their respective ruts fight to keep Jesus in theirs…like a tamed pet. This is the making of many an internet meme involving “liberal Jesus” vs. “conservative Jesus” both of which are figments of the modern Americans’ imaginations.
I sometimes wonder if Christianity is not actually far too easily misunderstood because of our perceived reality and belief in the universality of our rutted road. The only way to fit Christianity onto the road to begin with is to secularize it and make it amenable to modernity. It is turned into a philosophy, a moral teaching to be applied to all those on the road, or a manifesto for social reform. We, as proponents of the left rut or the right rut need this to happen in order to make our religion of choice a part of our journey on the road. This is done subtly and without conscious or deliberate effort….it seems a natural course of action. To many of us, it just “is.”
The primary means of modernizing Christianity is to boil it down to one or the other of two simple things: 1) moral rules and regulations. Or 2) Moral rules and regulations sprinkled with miracles. By so doing, Christianity becomes a religion that we can easily grasp and understand and as such it can “function” on the road and thus can more easily fit into our ruts. Having accomplished this simplification of the religion, the Kingdom of which Jesus spoke will then mesh quite nicely with our journey towards utopia and we can more easily argue about the moral rules and regulations of Christ and how to use and apply them to reach that goal. Put simply, this then becomes the sort of religion that is “fit-for-purpose.” Christianity becomes merely another type of bicycle to navigate the constraints, potholes, and ruts of the road we created– in other words, Christianity is made into the image and likeness of our road. And many a modern Christian denomination has constructed their faith in precisely this way, whether it be an evangelical church trumpeting the GOP platform, or a liberal church which erases all traces of the supernatural and trumpets a gospel of social justice.
The forcing of Christianity onto the road and then into our respective ruts, is a necessary product of the juridical mind (a key ingredient in the road’s asphalt), which manifests a very simplistic “right versus wrong” perception. This vision makes “common sense” to those of us on, and fully invested in the truth and reality of the rutted road. Consequently, Christianity becomes ensnared in this mindset such that its expression of morality can only be understood in the context of rules and laws. Do this and don’t do that. Each rut particularly emphasizes certain facets of Christian “morality” and then mangles or abandons the rest to fit into their ruts. For the rut dwellers, Christianity can only be about law and lawlessness. After all, what else could there be in the secularized and material world of the rutted road? If it is not somehow aiding us in our movement down the road, what good is it?
Christians who call one of the two ruts home, are thus able to find common ground with others - who may be strict materialists – in their devotion to the concepts of morality being framed in the context of lawfulness and lawlessness. In this way, those people who claim no religious faith are able to make sense of religion and so Christianity becomes nothing more than an ethical system. In the end what REALLY matters is the rut we share, the differences in our worldviews otherwise are inconsequential – and relegated to our personal business as if it were a fashion decision. Many, however, do not realize - both the Christian and non-Christian alike - the extent to which popular understandings of Christian morality have shaped the road and the ruts over the past many centuries. Christian anthropology was revolutionary when it was first proclaimed and it now forms a significant portion of our road, so much so that it is taken for granted as something that is itself self-evident. Indeed, anyone can be highly moral and follow the rules on the road, Jesus need not play a role at all. And so we reside in our ruts and rather easily find common ground and shared values with people who neither know, nor care a wit about Christ – they and we are happy just to be in the same rut. Subsequently, Christian morality as understood on the road, becomes something that may be forced upon people in order to progressively move us towards, or conservatively bring us back to utopia. Doing so suddenly becomes the focus and in some cases the only “work” of Christianity on the rutted road. This, then, is the Christianity of the ruts and it is most easily identified in Christians who reside in opposite ruts and eschew one anothers’ company in favor of fellow rut dwellers who loathe the very idea of Christianity but will suffer its existence in anyone as long as they share the same rut-values.
I would be so bold as to assert that the Christianity of the ruts, isn’t Christianity at all – in either it’s left or right rut versions. It is what I would term Christian Moralism which is a religion loosely informed by Jesus’s teachings and warped by modernity – the rutted road - in which Jesus is comprehended only through the road’s composition, contours, and ruts. It is truly akin to a cult and a heresy. The ruts – trenches really - are the great divider and those therein are at “war” with one another. Those in the left rut are headed in one direction and those in the right rut are moving the opposite direction. And their so-called “culture war” is being dragged into every aspect of our lives…even our sacred spaces. We’ve watched it happen in many religious denominations and it still continues to happen as people, so committed to their ruts/trenches in the socio-political culture war, that they force this battle into the subject of every single matter that may befall or be dragged onto the road. Anyone remotely active on social media sees this happen time after time. Some issue will arise and in short order the two ruts will develop opposing narratives on it. No subject matter seems to be immune from it – even pandemics are weapons in the hands of the socio-political culture warriors! And, their church communities are fair game as well. And the results are catastrophic. Nothing so easily divides people than their commitment to their ruts and no religion in history has ever demanded such obedience to their dogmas as does the secular materialism of the ruts.
In recent decades, we are witnessing that war being brought into the naves of the Orthodox Church as both sides try desperately to claim her as their own. And this should not surprise us because this war has become so ingrained in the fabric of our imagined reality. And so we rationalize: “Well, shouldn’t this fight be fought? Shouldn’t this war be won? It’s important for the sake of gaining the Kingdom….it’s what Jesus would want….He’s obviously in *MY* rut.” This should grieve us to no end, because not only is Jesus NOT in either rut, He isn’t on the rutted road at all! And we cannot, by all the sheer mental force of our collective minds, push Him onto it. The minute we try to do so, we’ve lost Him. Anything we call God that we pull onto our road and into our preferred ruts ends up being nothing but a façade of Him…a cheap knock-off copy which has some semblance of the original, but utterly lacks substance. It’s imaginary. It’s idolatry. Just like our road which is itself a sort of collective delusion – it isn’t real. Like starved savages we who are in the ruts are fighting over Jesus as if He were a pot of stew, but unrealized by us, the pot is filled only with air – in the midst of our fighting Jesus has slipped through our fingers. For surely, the message of the New Testament is not about obedience to rules and laws, but rather communion. Obedience has its role to play, but it is not the goal – without the end goal being union, obedience is pointless. The Christian message is about transformation and renewal of the heart and mind as St. Paul mentions time and time again. These are not just clever words suggesting a very temporary changing of one’s mind or of perpetually bending of the self-will: It is truly about dying and being reborn. The road and it’s ruts have no means of dealing with this. It has no means of actualizing or even understanding it. It’s only mantra is to create endless laws to govern human kind believing that somehow this will actually change human hearts, turning bad people into good. Christianity, as has been said many times before, is not about making bad people good; it is about making dead people alive again. And living people don’t hole up in ruts or trenches…those are the graves of modernity.
Further, we confuse the Kingdom with the utopia we seek to build by traversing our rutted road, despite our Lord being VERY clear that His Kingdom is NOT of this world. When the Pharisees asked Him when the Kingdom would appear, He answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” (Luke 17:20-21 RSV) Our goal in “obtaining the Kingdom” is not to pull Christ onto our road to help us get “there”, but to allow ourselves to be pulled off our road altogether and realize that the Kingdom is already in our midst – we don’t look down the road for it, we look inward. This doesn’t mean we turn our backs on society or refuse to travel with our fellow companions – but rather to recognize that the road isn’t “natural”, its existence is completely artificial – a construct of our collective minds; it isn’t the framework of reality through which we must understand all things. Instead we must find the means to escape this construct and St. Paul puts it very well when he wrote to the Church in Rome: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2 RSV). The Kingdom is already here…in our midst and in our hearts. We manifest it not through laws or regulations, but by dying to ourselves and allowing Christ to live in and through us. Again St. Paul says: “For I through the law, died to the law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:19-20).
When one is received into the Orthodox Church they are not asked: “Do you promise to obey and keep all the moral and ethical commands of Christianity?” Or “Do you promise to join the right (or left) rut and fight the good fight of the socio-political culture wars?” Rather, one is asked, not once, not twice, but THREE times: “Do you UNITE yourself to Christ?” And after Baptism we sing the words of St. Paul: “As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:27) And what follows this verse from the Epistle to the Galatians? “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In other words, we leave all notions of our self-identity (the primary fuel in the socio-political culture war) at the door of the Church. My identity is “hidden” in Christ as St. Paul told the Colossians: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:1-3). So whether you are a gun-loving republican capitalist from the deep south or a hemp-wearing socialism-touting activist from New York City, that is all left at the door of the Kingdom. It is all for naught…the ugly narratives that propel us in the socio-political culture war dissolve into noise that echo briefly and then fade into the appropriate silence of awe at the witness of profound and unspeakable beauty like Job’s whirlwind which cannot be contained in any rut.
For holiness is not found in the rote obedience to rules. Holiness and the goodness of which Christianity speaks is not hinged to legality, but rather ontology. It references our being (nature, essence) rather than the acts of a being. Sin is not being “bad” or simply breaking the law of God, it is literally the movement away from Life towards death and but for God’s intervention it leads to eternal death. A rich man once approached Jesus and asked Him: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus begins by responding: “Why do you call me good, No one is good but God alone” (Luke 18 RSV) and then our Lord says that the rich man knows the commandments, and so he should keep them. Astonishingly enough, the man boasts that he has kept them all since his youth. Our Lord then asks the seemingly impossible: “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Literally he is being asked to give up everything he owns, his business/career, his home and presumably his family… give up everything and become the impoverished disciple of an itinerant Jewish preacher. Who of us would have said yes? If you answer too quickly I will assume you have not fully considered the matter. Jesus does not let such hard teachings end there, I’m afraid. In Matthew 5 he tells the people gathered during the Sermon on the Mount a long series of difficult teachings, much like what was offered to the rich man. He recalls the old law about killing and piles on: you must not even be angry with another person. He recalls the law against adultery and again, piles on: you cannot even LOOK at another person lustfully. On and on it goes: you cannot divorce; you cannot resist evil people – let them rob, beat and kidnap unfathomably He commands: you must LOVE your enemy. Were that enough, He ends His teachings with this: “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” These moral teachings conceived of as laws on the road are simply incomprehensible: No law and no rule can properly account for such as these…when our Lord says “Do not resist an evil person”, what on earth does He mean? What about our rights? What about racists cops? What about drug-crazed maniacs? What about justice?
On the road and particularly in the ruts, people are obsessed with the concepts of rights and justice, they often reside at the heart of all their battles. The two ruts fiercely disagree with one another regarding which rights exist or are the most important, and while there is general agreement on the idea of justice, they often vehemently disagree on the specifics of its application. Concepts of rights and justice provide context for the moral indignation each rut feels for those in the opposite rut, they are the twin drums both sides beat upon in a never-ending cacophonic competition of who can be the loudest. We often hear about “God-given rights” (aka “human rights” by the non-religious) which are – we are to suppose – rights that exist in and of themselves, and the concept of justice often is understood as being reflective of the Kingdom and the enshrinement of one rut or the others’ perception of rights. However, what do rights and justice really look like in the Kingdom? Are the ruts’ perception of what justice looks like really a reflection of the justice found in the Kingdom? Well, we have already shown that both sides are going to have problems reconciling their concepts of rights in the Kingdom. For neither rut would ever suggest that justice is letting evil people have their way with the innocent. What are we to make of this perplexing idea? Should we not then ignore the abuse some law enforcement officers visit upon minorities? If you think Jesus’ call for the rich man to give up everything he owns to the poor is applicable to American tax law, why not His command to NOT resist evil? To turn the other cheek? And if you believe that Christ’s commands for sexual purity are enforceable by marriage laws, why then should his commands not be enforced by law with regards to charity? And yet we argue with our brothers and sisters that our side of the socio-political war is the more Christian side while such inconsistencies stare us in the face.
In the 4th century, a monastic we know as St. Macarius was accused by a young woman of being the father of her unborn baby. One can easily imagine in our world today how such a story would play out on the rutted road: those in one rut would kneejerk and decry him and shout: “Believe her!” While the other side would kneejerk and support him crying out: “there’s no proof!” And the meme war for which we are all too familiar would light up the pixels on social media as each side argued pointlessly. Well as the story happened, there was apparently only one rut on the road and it seems nearly everyone believed her and all manner of insults, slander, and jeering were heaped upon him by the people who lived around him – he had become a horrific scandal. And how did St. Macarius respond to being the focal point of this scandal? How would he have responded while traveling upon today’s rutted road after becoming a lightning rod of the socio-political culture war? Surely he would join the one side supporting him and make the regular media circuits which would allow him to voice his indignation at the charges he deemed false. Social media would fact check articles, people would argue, and Macarius would vigorously defend his innocence. But that’s not what he did at all, in fact he uttered not a single word in his own defense and instead took it upon himself to support the young woman financially by the work of his own hands – seemingly an admission of guilt. In today’s world one rut would celebrate their perceived victory in the ongoing culture war for having sided with the young woman, thumbing their noses at the other side for having the audacity to suggest he was innocent. Throughout the woman’s pregnancy, St. Macarius supported the woman and endured the humiliation and disdain of the people. And in the end, miraculously, it was revealed that Macarius was NOT the father and that the young woman was simply covering for her and her boyfriend’s indiscretion.
With this revelation, there would be an outcry for justice. The woman MUST be held accountable. She and her boyfriend MUST pay the monk back. Macarius would be upheld as a martyr and the tables would turn as the other side in the culture war suddenly obtained the upper hand and a battle which seemed lost was now suddenly won. And what did St. Macarius do as the people came to him on their knees begging forgiveness for not believing him, and for hating him, and abusing him? What did he do as people realized the quality of his character? Did he write a book? Do speaking engagements for money? Join the fray of the culture war as a victor for one side? Undoubtedly frustrating everyone on all sides, St. Macarius packed up and quietly left. He left because he feared that the people’s praise of him would distract him from his monastic and Christian vocation of seeking union with Christ. St. Macarius was never walking in either of the ruts (however they might have existed in the 4th century) and he may not have ever been on the road at all. His actions mirror a type of justice for which the road can make no sense.
From the world’s perspective there is no justice here and were it made into a film, the audience would likely leave very dissatisfied with the lack of justice. There is however beauty and goodness in the story which isn’t the same as justice. As for justice – it remains a mystery. Christ speaks of God rewarding one group of workers who labored only at the end of the day in a manner that was equal to those who had labored the entire day. The principle at work seems to be something other than a concern for justice and St. Isaac the Syrian says as much in speaking of this parable along with the Parable of the Prodigal Son:
How can you call God just when you come across the Scriptural passage on the wage given to the workers? “Friend, I do thee no wrong: I choose to give unto this last even as unto thee. Or is thine eye evil because I am good?” How can a man call God just when he comes across the passage on the prodigal son who wasted his wealth with riotous living, how for the compunction alone which he showed the father ran and fell upon his neck and gave him authority over his wealth? None other but His very Son said these things concerning Him, lest we doubt it, and thus bore witness concerning Him. Where, then, is God’s justice?—for while we are sinners Christ died for us! But if here He is merciful, we may believe that He will not change. (I.51, p. 387)
Love your enemies, turn the other cheeks, help thieves to steal from you etc. This is a radical sense of “justice” that begins with love and mercy above all else – utterly foreign to the secular understanding of justice. It is impossible to legislate love and mercy. The only justice we can legislate is wrapped up in some form of violence to one degree or another: whether that be forcing you to give your valuables to another, imprisonment, or killing you. I’m not suggesting we should have no system of justice, but I *AM* saying we cannot confuse it as being the fulfilment of God’s justice. The justice of the Kingdom turns our secular system of justice on its head and our attempts to “weaponize” Christian morality into forces of secular law are wholly misguided.
Justice in the Kingdom (such as described in the Beatitudes) is not something we can manifest by the laws of men. Indeed, the Beatitudes are not commandments at all - read them and see. They are not battle cries for social justice; they are statements about REALITY in the Kingdom, which our Lord assures us is HERE and NOW. God’s ultimate justice isn’t reparations, or revenge, or punishment for evils done. Impossible though it may seem, justice in the Kingdom is evil itself being undone. Christ did not come to teach us new laws with the goal of making a more just and equitable society, he never uttered a word against “systemic injustice” or “institutionalized sins”, even while living in a slave-making/trading colonial empire that was arguably one of the most unjust, cruel, and oppressive to exist on the planet. He lived His life in the midst of a homeland occupied by unjust forces and yet He would not raise His voice against them and even – to the dismay of zealots – showed them love and kindness. At one point He even chastens the lack of faith in His fellow Jews by contrasting it to the faith shown by a pagan centurion! It is obvious that Jesus did not come to give us a new political philosophy. He did not come to bring a socialist utopia, nor did He come to give us a capitalist democratic republic. He did not argue over which economic system would create “justice.” He did not come to liberate the economically oppressed, nor to give us a puritanical code of behavior that would yield a conservative utopia. He did not come to establish either fantasies of a God-fearing 1950’s America, nor a liberal money-free society of perfect equality. And even when the cruelty of the Roman Empire was heaped upon His followers in the infant Church, there was never talk of revolution, in fact our Lord even warned His followers that they would and must accept injustice as they were to suffer and die at the hands of the Empire. The ONLY revolution Christ came to wage would come in a much more radical and unexpected way.
The only real tyrant who reigns over all of creation is death. And Christ came to topple its empire through His own death and then mystically uniting Himself to us once we have surrendered ourselves to “death” and allowed Him to live in and through us. This is a life-long – or rather eternal - process of transformation. The rutted road and its materialism has no idea what to do with this concept because Jesus escapes their grasp to use Him as a weapon in their trench war of progressives vs. conservatives whose preferred revolutions are primarily fueled by fear of each other. But in the Kingdom, we are not each other’s enemies. There is only one enemy. And that enemy has been trampled down and the joyous light of this revelation offers us the way of stepping off the rutted road.
A 1987 Soviet film (which ended up being banned in its country of origin) called “Repentance” is a satirical portrayal of a Stalin-like leader in Georgia. It is thought provoking and sometimes comical. Keeping in mind the materialism-fueled communist goal of finding utopia, the film ends with an old woman asking another if the road she is on leads to the church and she is informed that it does not, whereby the film then ends with her replying: "What good is a road if it doesn't lead to a church?" Indeed.