Author Archives: Cole Bodkin

Trading Your Resolutions for Jesus’ Questions by Cole Bodkin

It’s that time of the year again: New Year. We pump ourselves up, decide to set goals or resolutions, and…end up failing, or not even beginning. Despite our defeats, good intentions are behind this resolution-setting. Hopefully, introspective and purposeful questions guide the way. Who am I? What do I want to change about myself? Who do I want to become?

Deep, meaningful questions are quintessential for our personal development not only in general but also in our sanctification. A single question has the ability to stop you dead in your tracks, pierce your heart, or propel you towards uncharted territory. In order for the necessary steps to occur to enact effectual change, you must often begin with a question.

So, what if you do something different this New Year? Instead of setting goals for yourself with your own questions, what if you sit with Jesus’ questions, look at yourself long and hard in the mirror, and allow his questions to shape and guide you into this next year? What if you trade your resolutions for Jesus’ questions?

Since there are so many questions that Jesus poses in the Gospels, it might be easier to look at one Gospel and focus on a few. Let’s look at John’s Gospel.

“What do you seek?”

Those just so happen to be the first words that come out of Jesus’ mouth in the Gospel of John (1:38). After a glorious introduction sketching the creation of the cosmos, and how this Word spoke all things into existence, you might expect a declaration, something like: “Let there be light.”

But that’s not what we get. Instead, we see the Lord of Creation’s initial remarks aren’t declaratory, but inquisitive:

“What do you seek?”

Maybe this shouldn’t surprise us, but over and over again we find the portrait of Jesus in the Gospels is of one who asks questions. He asks 307 questions, whereas his inquisitors ask only 183. It’s telling, for all sorts of reasons, that the Lord of the universe employs questions. “What are you searching for?” is a different kind of consideration than, “what are your annual goals and resolutions?”

What sort of Lord is that?

Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a shock that here in the beginning of the gospel of John, Jesus—the Word who became flesh (incarnation), who decided to dwell among humans—is in the midst of a discussion with two people regarding location.

If you’ll recall, a long time ago a duo in a garden far, far away had just committed an egregious act and hid. The first words directed to them, the first conversation between God and humanity began also with a question:

“Where are you?”

Now fast-forward. Instead of running away from God, they are coming toward him. They are moving toward the God who makes his dwelling with humanity. These two former John-the-Baptizer disciples respond to Jesus’ question—what do you seek?—with another question:

Where do you abide?”

Initially, I thought this was another example of oblivious disciples: “um…where do you live?” Palm over face, right? Wrong.

Their question is actually brilliant.

They are searching and seeking his dwelling place, his abode. We’ve already learned that this God made his dwelling in the flesh in Jesus; but what is it like, the place where he abides and others abide with him?

Surely, Jesus could have said, “Go up 100 steps to the North, take a left around the bend towards the outskirts of Galilee. Enter the village and the second house on the right is mine.” He could have said something to that effect, he could have drawn a map in the sand, but he doesn’t. Instead, Jesus says:

Come and you will see.”

Come and see where I abide.  Come and see the place for which you are seeking. Come, where I abide with you and you with me. Resolutions fall far short of the journey toward which Jesus beckons us.

What do you seek?

In John’s Gospel, this isn’t the only time this question occurs. It is also directed to the soldiers at Jesus’ arrest (18:4,7) and to Mary at the empty tomb (20:15). Perhaps this is the question of John’s portrait of Jesus.

Are you ready to sit with Jesus’ questions rather than your own resolutions as you enter this new year?

What do you seek?

What are you chasing?

Who are you looking for?

What do you desire?


Note from the Editor: a version of this first appeared on Wesleyan Accent in 2018. Cole Bodkin is a valued contributor and former editorial assistant at Wesleyan Accent.

Cole Bodkin ~ How the Questions of Jesus Can Shape Your Year: What You Love

What sort of questions does the Resurrected Jesus ask?

We’ve already seen that before the crucifixion, Jesus liked asking a question multiple times in different scenarios. In many cases we see his dialogues often contain a rapid succession of questions. In the final chapter of John we see the resurrected Jesus posing the same question multiple times to an old friend.

 “Do you love me more than these?”

What a painful question to receive, but what an important one, too. Whenever a person is asked this, there is usually some heartbreak involved, or some sense in which trust is in question or betrayal has occurred. Peter responds matter-of-factly, or possibly nonchalantly, “Yes Lord; You know that I love you.”

Jesus replies, “Tend my lambs.”

But maybe it isn’t sinking in yet, so Jesus asks again.

Do you love me?

At this point perhaps Peter is a little confused (Did you not hear me the first time?), frustrated (Jesus, did I stutter?) or even getting a little nervous (What’s going on?). Again Peter responds, “Yes Lord; You know that I love you.”

He hears a similar response from Jesus: “Shepherd my sheep.”

Maybe the disciples sit for a little bit and take a few nibbles of fish, in silence, warming up by the fire. The smoke makes its way up Peter’s nostrils and suddenly jogs his memory of being questioned about his relationship to Jesus by the fire in the courtyard (“No way! I don’t know that guy!”).

Then the dagger comes that brings the big man to grief.

Do you love me?

Three times Peter denied Jesus in front of others. Now, three times Jesus asks if Peter actually loves him. The pain of failure returns as Peter is faced with a question of allegiance. Sheepishly, Peter mutters in despair and despondence: “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”

One last time, Jesus charges Peter, “Tend my sheep.”

Do you love me?

Do you love me?

Do you love me?

Peter has been around long enough to know what it means to love Jesus. It involves abiding in, remaining in his love.

“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (14:15).

“He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him” (14:21)

“Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.  He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.” (14:23-24)

“Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (15:9-11).

It’s interesting that Peter doesn’t reciprocate the love language that Jesus uses. Jesus employs the rugged, covenantal commitment kind of love (agape), whereas Peter seems to only bring himself to use the brotherly kind of love (phileo). Yet, Jesus with this test meets Peter in his current state, and—despite it all—accepts, restores, and continues to implore him to, “feed my sheep.” In some ways, it resembles the end of Matthew’s Gospel. The resurrected Jesus appears to the disciples on the mountaintop and some still doubted. Nevertheless, Jesus still charges them to embark on the Great Commission.

When you’ve failed Jesus, denied him, or not lived up to what you’ve been called, take hope that Jesus doesn’t give up on you and still has a job for you to do.

So, where is Jesus leading you in 2018?

What questions do you need to hear?

What are you looking for?

What does your love for Jesus look like?

Cole Bodkin ~ How the Questions of Jesus Can Shape Your Year: Who You Are

It’s that time of the year again. Usually, we pump ourselves up, decide to set goals or resolutions, and…end up failing, or not even beginning. Despite our defeats, good intentions are behind this resolution setting, with introspective, purposeful questions guiding the way.

Who am I? What do I desire? What do I want to change about myself? Who do I want to become?

Deep, meaningful questions are quintessential for our growth not only in life, in general, but also in our sanctification. A single question has the ability to stop you dead in your tracks, pierce your heart, or propel you towards uncharted territory. In order for the necessary steps to occur to enact effectual change, you must often begin with a question.

So, what if we decided to do something different this year? Instead of us setting the goals for ourselves—via our own questions—what if we sat with Jesus’ questions, looked at ourselves long and hard in the mirror, and allow his questions to shape and guide us into this next year?

Since there are so many questions that Jesus poses in the Gospels, it might be easier to look at one Gospel and focus on a few questions. Let’s turn to John’s Gospel.

“What do you seek?”

Those just so happen to be the first words that come out of Jesus’ mouth in the Gospel of John (1:38). After a glorious introduction sketching the creation of the cosmos, and how this Word spoke all things into existence, you might expect a declaration, something like: “Let there be light.”

But that’s not what we get. Instead, we see the Lord of Creation’s initial remarks aren’t declaratory, but inquisitive:

“What do you seek?”

Maybe this shouldn’t surprise us, but over and again the portrait of Jesus we find in the Gospels is that of one who asks questions. He asks 307 questions, whereas his inquisitors ask only 183. It’s telling, for all sorts of reasons, that the Lord of the universe employs questions. What sort of Lord is that?

Perhaps, upon further reflection, it shouldn’t come as a shock that here in the beginning of the gospel of John, Jesus—the Word who became flesh (incarnation), who decided to dwell among humans—is in the midst of a discussion with two people regarding location.

If you’ll recall, a long time ago a duo in a garden far, far away had just committed an egregious act and was hiding. The first words directed to them, the first conversation between God and humanity began also with a question:

“Where are you?”

Now fast-forward. Instead of running away from God, they are coming toward him. They are moving toward the God who makes his dwelling with humanity. These two former John-the-Baptizer disciples respond to Jesus’ question—what do you seek?—with another question:

Where do you abide?”

Initially, I thought this was another example of oblivious disciples: “um…where do you live?” Palm over face, right? Wrong.

Their question is actually brilliant.

They are searching and seeking his dwelling place, his abode. We’ve already learned that this God made his dwelling in the flesh in Jesus; but what is it like, the place where he abides and others abide with him?

Surely, Jesus could have said, “Go up 100 steps to the north take a left around the bend towards the outskirts of Galilee. Enter the village and the second house on the right is mine.” He could have said something to that effect, he could have drawn a map in the sand, but he doesn’t. Instead, Jesus says:

Come and you will see.”

Come and see where I abide.  Come and see the place for which you are seeking. Come where I abide with you and you with me.

What do you seek?

In John’s Gospel, this isn’t the only time this question occurs. It is also directed to the soldiers at Jesus’ arrest (18:4,7) and to Mary at the empty tomb (20:15). Perhaps this is the question of John’s portrait of Jesus.

Sit with Jesus’ questions rather than your own as you enter a new year. What do you seek? What are you chasing? Who are you looking for? What do you desire?



Note from the Editor: The accompanying featured image is a work entitled, “The Constant Question,” by Spanish artist Chicote CFC

Cole Bodkin ~ The Better Place: Part III

Note from the Editor: This is the third in a series of posts on dystopian entertainmenteschatology, and the state of the church.


The Great Barrier Reef

A few months ago, an online news article quickly went viral with its title Obituary: Great Barrier Reef (25 Million BC – 2016). Though not yet factual, it definitely caused consternation and raised awareness of the endangered state of the Great Barrier Reef.

This immediately reminded me of renowned consultant Alan Roxburgh’s book Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood. In the opening chapter, he recounts of a majestic experience of snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef only to learn later from his marine biologist friend that within a generation it will all be gone. Unfortunately, according to his friend, the pollution damage is irreversible. Notwithstanding, it was hard for Roxburgh to come to grips with this, because he had been swimming in the reef and had seen it teeming with life.

This made Roxburgh reflect about the current predicament facing the “Eurotribal” churches in the West and their various forms (seeker-sensitive, megachurches, and so on). Within just a generation, it can all be gone. Poof. Added to the extinction list.  

Consequently, Roxburgh suggests that in lieu of wasting so much energy on church-centric questions that seek strategic, pragmatic solutions with the goal of keeping and getting more people in the doors, instead we should come alongside God’s mission in the neighborhood. We need to be asking more missional questions than ecclesial.

Like the Great Barrier Reef, there is much at stake when anything is endangered. Are various forms of church endangered, as Roxburgh suggested? Is the gospel endangered, as John C. Nugent suggests in his book, Endangered Gospel: How Fixing the World is Killing the Church.   ? Regardless, if indeed our hopes are misplaced and the story we are telling is wrong, then both the gospel and church are in danger.

Shark Tank: Everyone Has a Cause

Moving downstream to shark-infested waters, consider the ABC show Shark Tank. The premise is that entrepreneurs have one shot to pitch their company before a few millionaire/billionaire “sharks” in hopes that one of the them will be lured into taking the bait and investing in the entrepreneur’s business. In one episode a millennial was emphasizing his company’s social cause, when Mark Cuban interrupted and remarked, “Yeah, but everyone has a cause.”

Cuban noted that almost every company nowadays has a great cause or effort they are trying to work towards, reduce, or eradicate. In other words, he was highlighting the popularity of world betterment. As we saw in the previous posts, Christians used to attempt to get people to escape this world (heaven-centered view), but now we try to save the world (human-centered view) or do our best until God eventually saves it (world-centered view).

Why Fixing the World is Killing the Church

In the podcast Crackers and Grapejuice: Talking Faith Without Stained Glass Language, UMC pastor Jason Micheli interviewed Nugent about his book; toward the end, he posed a really interesting observation. He says,

During the Enlightenment, Christianity legitimated itself by trying to demonstrate how it is reasonable. In the 20th century or even earlier, maybe, we tried to legitimate Christianity by showing that it was useful, so ministry became one of the helping professions. I’m wondering if the emphasis on social justice, now, is a way of justifying our existence to a world that doesn’t believe what we believe (26:10-26:37)? [1] 

Nugent agrees with Micheli’s question. Saving or fixing the world, and our involvement in that endeavor, is extremely popular right now.

We sing it.

We read it.

We watch it.

It’s the story that everyone wants to tell.

Yet is it the story that God wants us to tell? 

Don’t think that Nugent’s argument is against fixing the world, or railing against those who do so. Not at all. What we see in Scripture validates this desire. God wants the world to be a better place, too, and one day God will restore it; however, Nugent argues that that is a task ultimately reserved for the powers/rulers and authorities (presently) and God (future). The unique vocation that God has called his people to do, however, is different. 

Stained Glass Windows

The origins of stained glass windows are fascinating. Stained glass windows were created for the purpose of visually depicting the story of the Bible for the mostly illiterate onlookers. Functionally, the reflections of the stained glass windows shined out into the streets. The beautiful artistic representations helped those outside the church get a glimpse of the overarching story and its main characters within.

A few years ago I was in a church with gorgeous stained glass windows showcasing Christ and the Gospel. Upon further inspection, though, I noticed that—whether by ignorance, mistake, or design—the light from the windows didn’t reflect the story of Christ out into the world.

“What kind of message is that sending?” I thought to myself.

Later it dawned on me that in a culture in which Christendom is (slowly) fading, it’s just as important, if not more, that the light of the Gospel penetrates into the soul of the Body of Christ. If the love, light, and life of Christ does not saturate the gathered body, then what exactly is the church witnessing to, and why would it invite others to join into the new humanity created by Jesus if, in the end, it’s no different from the old world order and structures?

Reinvesting in the Church

In the last section of his book, Nugent highlights what the better place looks like in action by examining discipleship, leadership, fellowship, family relationships, friendship, vocation, missions, and witness to the powers. At the conclusion, Nugent warns of two potential pitfalls with this kingdom-centered vision of the church as the better place: isolationism (insularity leading to complete withdrawal from the world)and utopianism (naively attempting to create an ideal society). Both are to be avoided if a church is to fully embrace, display and proclaim the kingdom.

The appendix provides some great questions divided into four topics: struggling with your church, helping those outside the church, taking social justice seriously, and striving to remain faithful. We’ll look at one question and answer from each section to conclude this post and series.

Struggling with Your Church

I’m going to combine two practical questions in this section:

I am part of a progressive church that wants to save this world or I am a part of an inwardly focused church that mostly ignores the outer world. How is a kingdom-centered approach good news for my church?

For the progressive church, the good news of a kingdom-centered approach is that the world doesn’t need you to save it, and you will continually fail because the church wasn’t designed with that purpose in mind. Therefore, take rest that you no longer have to bear the burden of exhaustion! Since God has already begun saving the world by creating a new one (the church), you can now get on with the task of embracing, displaying, and proclaiming the kingdom and new world order made possible in Jesus. [2]

For the inwardly focused church, the good news of a kingdom-centered approach is that you can still “become the body of Christ” because a church that exists only for itself and does not engage in God’s mission is not a church at all. So you can “rethink your approach to the world” by asking questions such as, “How can we as a church body creatively show our community what God’s kingdom is like?”[3]

Helping Those Outside the Church

Is God at work in nonbelievers who make this world a better place by feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and welcoming strangers?

One of the points that Nugent belabors is that God is at work outside of the Church, too, including nonbelievers and political powers. Nevertheless, “[w]e must not assume, however, that just because God is doing something we should get in on the action. We are stewards of the gospel. Whether we like it or not, worldly powers rule the nations, not us.”[4]

Taking Social Justice Seriously

What about human rights? Should Christians seek to make sure people’s rights are properly protected and respected?

Without a doubt, the church should be concerned about the dignity of all people, but the church should be different in that it is the place primarily where justice and dignity are displayed. Our witness, therefore, will look different determining on how the wider society views biblical justice either accepting or rejecting it. [5]

Striving to Remain Faithful

How do we sustain a kingdom-centered church life?

Sustainability happens through regular gospel proclamation, big picture metanarratival (re)telling, and the congregation regularly soaking itself in Scripture and the kingdom-vision set forth by Jesus. Additionally, fervent love among believers is vital, along with fraternal admonition and repentance. Finally, a robust vision of the priesthood of all believers is crucial for kingdom-centered perseverance. [6]

What do you think of the kingdom-centered vision of the better place? Does your church embrace, display, and proclaim the kingdom of God? Does it function like an embassy of the kingdom of heaven?

[1] Crackers and Grapejuice: Talking Faith Without Stained Glass Language, episode 33, 26:10-26:37.

[2] Kindle Location 3650

[3]Kindle Location 3674

[4] Kindle Locations 3765-3767

[5] Kindle Location 3844

[6] Kindle Locations 3901-3932


Cole Bodkin ~ A Better Place: The Embassy of the Kingdom of Heaven

What is the better place?

As seen in the last post, the three most popular sketches of the Christian “better place”—heaven-centered, human-centered, and world-centered—have been various soteriological attempts to depict both our hope and mission. (Soteriology, as you may remember, refers in theology to the theology of salvation.) However, as John C. Nugent argues in his book Endangered Gospel: How Fixing the World is Killing the Church, these are incomplete visions of the biblical picture and a better alternative is the kingdom-centered vision.

Through the dystopian prism, I argued that the kingdom-centered vision could be likened to a heterotopia: a counter-site reflecting a utopia in the midst of the larger dystopian world. This place of othernessis like a miniature kingdom embedded inside a foreign territory. Switching metaphors slightly, let’s turn to 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 to flesh out this kingdom-centered vision of the better place:

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

God inaugurates a new creation in Christ, that is, the people of God. We are the better place, the new social reality that God has created in Jesus! That means we aren’t called to create the better place, but to receive it, to embrace it, to become it. But this also doesn’t mean that we sit around on our hands. We are the means through which God has chosen to make his reconciling appeal to the world. How? We have been entrusted as God’s ambassadors.

That is God’s strategy: to make his reconciling appeal to the world through his ambassadors. This imagery of ambassadors is such a rich metaphor. Ambassadors are citizens of one kingdom who represent their citizenry or government to other kingdoms. A great present-day illustration is the concept of an embassy. Ambassadors live in other parts of the world, but their loyalty or allegiance belongs to their home country. Nugent expounds that,

God has already revealed a better world, a new creation. Christians are its citizens. We have already entered it. But creation isn’t new for everyone. It is only new to those who are in Christ. The present form of this world is passing away, but most people are oblivious to it (1 Cor 7: 31). That is why God calls us to declare and represent his better world to others. Even though God sits enthroned over all nations and works among each one, he does not claim them as his kingdom. His kingdom is still a minority movement in this world. We are its ambassadors. Rival kingdoms, even hostile ones, still exist.* 

As ambassadors of Christ we are the embassy of the Kingdom of Heaven. Each local church is an embassy of the kingdom of heaven and we as its ambassadors are extensions and representatives of the better place in the midst of the world that is passing away.

An 82-year-old Czech widow, Ludmilla, gets it. Let your imagination wonder and take five minutes to watch her story here.

What does this mean for our practice? How do ambassadors of the kingdom of heaven represent the King and his kingdom to the world? We do so by embracing, displaying and proclaiming the kingdom.

Embracing the Kingdom

To help us more fully welcome and receive this new reality of the church as the better place, Nugent lays out seven categories so that we might live into it:

We have entered a new era in world history. (See Matt 4:17; 10:7; 12:28; Mark 1:17; Luke 16:16-17; 17:20-21; Acts 2:14-21; Gal 4:4-5; 2 Cor 6:2; Col 1:26; 2 Tim 4:1; 1 Pet 1:10-12, 20)

We have entered into a new world reality.(See Gal 6:15; 1 Cor 7:29-31; 2 Cor 5:17-19; Col 1:20; 2:13; 3:3; 1 John 2:8, 17; Jas 1:18)

We have entered into a new life.(See John 3:15-16, 36; 4:10, 14; 5:24; Rom 6:4, 11; Eph 2:1–6; Col 2:12; 3:1; 1 Tim 6:12, 19; Jas 1:18; 1 Pet 1:3, 23)

We have entered into a new social reality and set of relationships.(See 2 Cor 5:16, 18; Gal 3:28; Col 3:11; Acts 2:18; 1 John 1:7; Heb 6:4; 1 Pet 4:17)

We have entered into a new way of living.(See Col 2:10; 3:9-11; John 15:3; 1 John 1:7; Gal 3:27; Titus 3:5; 1 Thess 5:4-5; 2 John 1:2; 2 Cor 4:16)

We have entered into a new status.(See Luke 7:28; 19:19; 1 John 2:5, 6; 3:1-2; Jas 1:9-10; Phil 1:10; 3:20; Eph 1:19; 2:5-6, 8; 1 Cor 3:21-23; Rom 8:19, 21; Gal 3:29; 4:4-5)

We have entered into God’s abundant blessings. (See Mark 10:29-30; Luke 4:18-21; 18:28-30; John 8:32, 36; Rom 8:1-2, 21; Gal 1:4; Col 2:20; 1 John 3:24; 4:13; Heb 6:4-5; 12:28)

Displaying the Kingdom

Not only do we accept this new life, reality, and world that God has inaugurated in Christ, but we also display it, like a model home in a new subdivision development. People can come check it out and imagine and envision what life would be like here. So, too, the life of the church ought to be to curious onlookers. The church’s life is “the model home of God’s kingdom.”** This is, in fact, God’s design to magnetically draw in those living in the “dystopia” into the “heterotopia.” The most effective strategy of evangelism that God has provided is the embodied life of love displayed in the embassy of the kingdom of heaven: 

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35) 

Love for one another is where emphasis lies within this community. Priority is placed first and foremost within. That comes as a shocker and seems too insular; however, more prominence is given to in-house living in the New Testament, which is why Paul and others focus so much attention on the “one anothers” – life lived together withinthe household of faith.

What will come as a contentious statement for many is the overwhelming fact that in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, primary attention is given to the care of fellow believers. The possible exception to this rule is the love of enemy and neighbor (neighbor then generally referred to fellow Israelite). This can come across as inwardly focused, irresponsible, reprehensible, and embarrassing. If God cares so much about the world, wouldn’t God want his ambassadors to “infiltrate” other governments with their superior knowledge and persuade the powers-that-be to do things their way?

Though that might be what we would expect, that’s not what we see in the Bible itself. God’s strategy, his task for his church is to be such a beacon of light and love that others are drawn towards it like bugs to a bright light at night. When we shift our focus away from what God desires, we usually tend to look more like the world that is passing away than displaying the new world that God has already created. And sadly, sometimes the world does it better than us in many instances in trying to make this world a better place.

Proclaiming the Kingdom

Embracing and displaying the kingdom doesn’t mean a counter-cultural separatist group that lives in the mountains away from civilization. The counter-site of the heterotopia is lodged firmly within the overall culture, not cloistered away from it. But neither does embracing and displaying the kingdom mean becoming activists or humanitarians (though there is nothing wrong with that). Central to the Christian mission is the proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom of God.

Yet, this proclamation is most fully encountered and observed within the context of a community. “By this all people will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Evangelists and apostles were sent out, but with the purpose of gathering non-believers into the fold of God, to see and taste that God is good. Think of it from this point of view: God cares so much about nonbelievers that God wants believers to place a priority on their love for one another so that the nonbelievers can encounter the better place in action, in flesh and blood, which is completely different than the surrounding culture. If the church is no different than the surrounding culture, why would someone want to switch their allegiance to Jesus?

In the next post, I’ll look a little closer at the uniqueness of the church’s task – and how fixing the world may be killing the church.

*Nugent, John C.. Endangered Gospel: How Fixing the World is Killing the Church (Kindle Locations 1427-1431). Cascade Books. Kindle Edition.

** Ibid., Kindle Location 1596

Cole Bodkin ~ The Better Place

Airborne illness.



Mass chaos.

Environmental disaster.

Oppressive dictators.

All of these – and more – are cataclysmic triggers for a dystopian society. If you’re catching up with American publishing, television, and film, the genre of “dystopia” has flooded the entertainment industry. For many, it’s becoming a little repetitive and mundane; but like it or not, people are fascinated, pulled in each week to watch or read the next chapter of a depressing, nihilistic narrative.

Before asking why, what is a dystopia? I was posed this question recently when describing a new television series.

A dystopia is a term often described in juxtaposition with a utopia. A utopia is the perfect, ideal place, whereas a dystopia is its opposite. Literally, it means “a bad place.” People live in fear under oppressive or harsh conditions, usually with little or nothing to look forward to.

As for the reasons behind the upswing in this dystopian trend, one could surmise many different theories; perhaps it has something to do with survival, or character development, or just maybe hope.

But what kind of hope could there possibly be for the downtrodden within a dystopian society? Is there any good news at all?

The Turning Point

Usually, there is a turning point in each story which inevitably acts as a counterpoint to the dystopian trigger. The opposite of the cataclysmic, catastrophic event which triggers a dystopia is a eucatastrophe (coined by J.R.R. Tolkien). Something has happened which conceivably changes everything for the good, or at least propels the story on a trajectory towards that goal. Things won’t ultimately conclude badly and thankfully there is potential for a utopian future because of this game-changer. So wherein does one’s hope lay now that this good thing has happened?

Heaven-Centered (Escapism)

Some movies and narratives suggest that departing the dystopia (many times the earth) is the only option available. In other words, it’s the escapist route (the most popular soteriological* hope – hope for existential salvation). Maybe it’s jettisoning off to a new planet with new possibilities and a fresh start, time traveling, or simply finding a way to escape an imprisoned life and crossing over into the utopia. The hope is future-oriented and the destination is elsewhere, somewhere beyond.

Human-Centered (Make the World a Better Place)

Other dystopian tales don’t allow for an escapist route. This present reality is all that there is (there is no future if we don’t act now). Hence, things are going to stay the same unless the oppressed can gain courage, revolt, take back what belongs to them and make their world a better place. This can happen instantaneously, but it might also be considered that the inhabitants will have to work slowly, knowing that things will ultimately get better (but maybe not) through progress, which eventually will result in this place/world becoming utopia (but maybe not). In other words, roll up your sleeves and get to work, or nothing will change.

World-Centered (Make the World to Come a Better Place)

The next option takes the best elements of the first two. There’s a strong emphasis on a future-oriented hope; however, it’s ultimately going to be here and not somewhere else in a galaxy far, far away (not heaven-centered). In some sense, the future hope of utopia has already broken into the present, but not in its fullness. Through a prophecy or something else (a deity, religious figure, aliens, etc.), the protagonists can go ahead and participate in the future utopian life now, but eventually it will come swiftly and climactically and not be up to human efforts (not human-centered). So even though a future global redemption will one day happen, there’s still responsibility for humans to strive towards world betterment (through justice efforts, environmental efforts, etc.).

Kingdom-Centered (Heterotopia)

As you can see, the hopes for the better place, the utopia, is what drives these salvation constructs. But what if the better place already exists both now and in the future within a community (presently) and the world (climactically)? What if this community could display this place of otherness– the utopia—as an advance foretaste of what is to come? In other words, what if anticipating and preparing for the utopia involved being physical manifestations, or representations of it like a counter-site?

One might call this better place a heterotopia (a term coined by Foucault).** Some of the dystopian films and shows depict a group of “good guys” who represent a counter-site like a miniature kingdom – different or other than the surrounding dystopia – that is fully embedded within the dystopian world. Their aim isn’t to change the dystopia or world (human-centered + world-centered) since that is beyond their purview. Instead, this heterotopia embodies the present-reality of the utopia (the kingdom) within its midst. Therefore, they embrace, display, and proclaimthe better place, the heterotopia.

Film and literature are great places to turn in order to examine not only our culture’s soteriological hopes but also our own.

Let’s pause for a moment and look in the mirror. Could these, perhaps, be Christian visions of hope that dystopian films have picked up on, and if so, what could this mean about the good news that we are proclaiming and bearing witness to?

Though not examining this through the dystopian prism, these “visions” of the better place are exactly what John C. Nugent has argued in his timely book Endangered Gospel: How Fixing the World is Killing the Church. Let’s briefly look at the three sketches that Nugent dismisses—heaven-centered (escape), human-centered (social gospel), world-centered (world betterment)—and then turn to the better option, the better place.

Incomplete Vision: Heaven-Centered 

The heaven-centered vision is the most popular vision of the better place that we’ve seen in the West for quite some time. In western Christianity, believers have affirmed that Jesus died for our sins and raised from the dead (the eucatastrophe), so now when we die we can escape this bad world and go to the better place of heaven (escapism). In the meantime, we say, let’s save as many souls as possible. The incompleteness of this vision has resulted in many deconstructive works. Rather than rehearsing those, I recommend the writings of N.T. Wright.

Incomplete Vision: Human-Centered

In the human-centered view, we come closest to a non-Christian view of the world that has no future hope. When Jesus, “came and preached the kingdom of God [the eucatastrophe], he was establishing a charter for how God’s will could be done on earth as in heaven. He was casting a world-transforming vision of social and economic justice.”** Therefore, it is up to us to make this a reality, to make this world a better place. Whether or not it will actually come to fruition is a matter of debate. But, if it does, it will be through progress.

Despite technological and medicinal advances, this view doesn’t hold water long-term since progress is clearly a myth (take, for example, the World Wars). Furthermore, this narrow social gospel doesn’t square well with eschatological texts where God’s divine intervention happens in dramatic fashion.

Incomplete Vision: World-Centered

Quickly gaining traction is the world-centered view. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are the turning point in Israel’s and the world’s history (the eucatastrophe), which has, in turn, launched a new creation in the midst of the old (good) creation. God, in Christ, is already making this world the better place, and although progress won’t bring about the final consummation of heaven and earth, we still have a role to play in it while participating with Christ in world betterment with the result of “the renewal of all things.”

The world-centered view is a welcomed upgrade from the previous two and has ostensibly been able to strike a harmonious chord (which could also explain its popularity), yet it also has its shortcomings. To help get a better grasp of the three different visions and their emphases see the following typological graph.

Better Place Typology I***

Salvation in Heaven

Salvation on Earth Restoration began with Jesus Future interruption God replaces fallen order Christians begin fixing fallen order
Heaven- Centered X X X
Human- Centered X X
World- Centered X X X X

Ultimately, the world-centered vision has misunderstood the distinctions between the three facets of creation—i.e., nonhuman creation (planet earth, soil, seas, sky, animals), new human order (the church via Christ), and old human orders (governing structures, economic systems, public service agencies)—as well as misplacing top priority by putting the cart (renewal of the earth happens in the future) before the horse (renewal of God’s people is happening now).

Here’s another helpful chart to help explain the biblical emphases vis-à-vis the created orders:****

Suffer Corruption Will be Perfected Will be Eliminated Now Being Renewed
Nonhuman Creation X X
New Human Order X X X
Old Human Orders X X

If each of these visions are off base, placing too much emphasis or the wrong prominence on the biblical hope of salvation, how does this kingdom-centered vision inch us closer to a more robust imagination of the better place? We’ll examine this in the next post.

Perhaps these four-categories represent dystopian/utopian films; maybe not. What these four categories do represent is Christian presentations of salvation: heaven-centered (escape), human-centered (humanitarian), world-centered (world betterment), and the better place (heterotopia). So argues John C. Nugent is his timely book Endangered Gospel.

*Soteriology refers to a theology of salvation.

**I was introduced to this term and its idea as a “counter-site” in Patrick Schreiner’s The Body of Jesus: A Spatial Analysis of the Kingdom in Matthew.

*** John C. Nugent, Endangered Gospel,Kindle Locations 194-195

**** Ibid., Kindle Location 248

*****Ibid., Kindle Location 322

Cole Bodkin ~ “Go Home” Ranch


Whether you’re reading this at home or at work, let me ask you a question. What sort of signal do you give your neighbors? Do you extend welcoming hospitality or have you constructed walls for your personal safe haven?

 Go Home Ranch 

My wife and I once hired a handyman to build a lattice fence that would enclose a giant air conditioning unit that we had installed the previous spring. This former shop teacher did an amazing job – beautiful work and to our surprise, priced extremely reasonably. On top of that, he was a nice, good ol’ guy.

Since he had recently transplanted from the Abilene, TX area to Memphis, TN, I couldn’t resist asking this Texan how the transition was coming along. I love asking that question to folks who relocate to the broader Memphis area not only because you get some great answers, but also because I love to hear the “newbie” perception, which fades or sometimes goes unnoticed by natives.

In the past, I’ve heard everything from “I love Memphis” to “Memphis is so boring and bland.” But I wasn’t prepared for our handyman’s response:

We’re adjusting to having neighbors. We didn’t have neighbors back in Texas


Luckily my mouth didn’t fall open, but I was shocked. I think I mumbled something like, “Really? That’s quite an adjustment I bet.”

I’d always grown up with neighbors, yet this guy had gone years, decades even, without them. Our handyman had lived on 160 acres. The nearest Lowe’s was an hour away, and to do any errands required a whole day’s planning.

Like many Texas ranch entrances – two massive beams on either side of the horizontal beam – our handyman had a sign dangling down designating the name of his ranch:


That’s an interesting message to say the least.

If we are honest with ourselves, though, are the rest of us non-ranchers any different? Even though 99% of us have neighbors, do most of us in the United States act like it? We’ve constructed our own “Go Home Ranch” signs in our front yards by daily retreating into our escape, shutting the garage door, and locking ourselves inside our safe havens. If we happen to go outside it’s to hang out in the backyard…away from those dangerous, scary strangers.

As I’ve been pondering what it means to take the second half of the Great Commandment more seriously, I’ve realized that to prevent the natural tendency to create my own “Go Home Ranch,” I need to replace my praxis.

I need to “move into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, The Message) like Jesus and grow roots. I must become more specific and contextualized in my discipleship. All of this, of course, is grounded in the interdynamic relationship between humanity and land, which is quintessential to neighboring – to discipleship.  

So I’ve restructured my discipleship practices around place. I’m re-placing a disembodied lifestyle with a local, rooted one. This neighborhood nexus I’ve constructed is centered around 7 P’s*: parsonage (home), porch (welcoming connectional points), pathways (daily routes), pivots (stopping points, e.g., “third place”), parish (geographical district and people), polis (city), and periphery (outer limits).

In this post I’d like to focus on porch since I touched on interactions just outside of the home (i.e., “parsonage”). Hopefully, by giving a few pointers and examples, it’ll reinvigorate you to reclaim the porch.

 Porchin’ It

Most people try to play or enjoy the exterior of their home (what I call “parsonage”) via the backyard. The problem with this is that it usually limits your visibility. You can interact with your next-door neighbors through hanging out in the backyard (plenty of “Wilson” conversations over the fence), but ultimately you’ll be losing out on a myriad of opportunities to meet and greet neighbors on their pathways (“daily routes”).

One of my first neighboring experiences came through “porchin’ it” with my neighbor across the street, Mr. Sam Oakley. Sam (rest his soul) used to sit out on his porch in his rocking chair each afternoon reading his KJV Bible or the local newspaper, chilling in the shade, and spitting his chew. When I’d get home from work, Sam would wave, and I would go over and we’d shoot the breeze for 30 minutes to an hour, talking about anything and everything.

Sam taught me a major lesson in neighboring: the importance of being present. Consistently being visible and available is key to loving our neighbors as ourselves. You simply can’t engage with fellow neighbors if you decide to build a moat around your castle, which is our default mode in an individualistic culture.

Personally, I’ve met quite a few people in my neighborhood by just hanging out on the porch. But, I’ve also found that unless it’s Halloween or Christmas, not many people will approach you at your porch. So you have to meet people where they are and extend your porch to the pathways through the driveway, mailbox, and the front yard.  

 The Turquoise Table

Although I have many stories of utilizing the driveway, mailbox, and front yard as extensions of the porch, for brevity’s sake I’d like to highlight an excellent, ingenious idea from someone else, which has taken off like wildfire.

Ever get tired of spinning your wheels when you try to create community? (Pastors, can I get an amen?) After trying unsuccessfully for 10 years, Kristin Schell came up with a creative, simple solution. She decided to move the backyard to the front.


A picnic table. To be more exact…a picnic table that was turquoise.

Before you knew it, neighbors began suddenly stopping by for coffee, a drink, or just to chat at the table. It became a gathering place where people could connect. Clearly, it hit a nerve as its popularity spread and more turquoise tables began popping up throughout her neighborhood. A little later and now there are at least 40 states where the turquoise table can be found.**

All of this happened because a faithful Christian decided to love her neighbors where they were. It didn’t involve elaborate details, or even knocking on doors, but deciding to be present and available to others. In doing so, perhaps we see a glimpse of what it means to not only extend the “porch,” but also to extend the Table into our neighborhoods.


*Inspired by Woodward and White’s The Church as Movement (pp. 205-209) and the Scottish parish model.

** For more, see this video and



Cole Bodkin ~ Review: Silence Unbroken

The Hero’s Journey

American mythologist Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) was renowned for his ability to compare ostensibly opposing worldviews, philosophies, and religions through the lens of mythology. What Campbell discovered was that the human experience could be reduced down to a single concept: the “monomyth.” In other words, all human traditions have an archetypal pattern with thousands of variations, which basically tell the same story: the hero’s journey.1

The hero’s journey involves as many as 17 stages and centers on a man or woman who goes on an adventure, is confronted with a crisis or resistance inevitably resulting in a decisive battle, and ensuing victory, which forever changes the hero(ine). At the conclusion of the hero’s journey, the audience is charged—through the power of the tale’s rhetoric—and implicitly beckoned to pursue their own personal quest. Once applying his method to various stories, movies, and books, one sees the merit of Campbell’s work and how the monomyth accurately portrays much of the common human experience.

And we Americans? We love the hero’s journey. We starve for it. It’s all around us. It’s part of the very fabric of our society. We are drawn to it, sing, it, celebrate it, and deep down in the inner recesses of our hearts, we ultimately want to be a hero.


Journey and Resistance

In Martin Scorsese’s recent film Silence, based on the novel by Shusaku Endo, Father Rodrigues learns that his mentor, Father Ferreira, has allegedly committed the egregious sin of apostasy. Though Christian persecution was pervasive in 17th century Japan in which the novel is set, Rodrigues and Garupe, Ferreira’s other mentee, could not possibly conceive of any scenario where their mentor could commit such an act of infidelity. Hence, they must depart immediately on their quest to investigate and (dis)prove any legitimacy of these claims.

Upon arriving in Japan, Father Rodrigues and Garupe realize that the persecution against Christians is much more severe than they had ever imagined. Yet, this will not stop our hero(es). The tandem duo is surreptitiously brought into a village full of Christians to whom they immediately minister in secret. At this point, we begin to notice that their mission—to recover or disprove the alleged news regarding Ferreira—is slightly modified and expanded: to tend to a desperate flock. To be sure, much is to be commended for their care amongst the despairing congregation; however, once the heat turns up, and the antagonist, The Inquisitor, discovers subversive Christian life in this village, a realization begins to surface: our hero’s quest has become extremely complicated and convoluted, and he has some cracks in his armor.

Without spoiling too much, I contend that characters in the biblical text begin to emerge in Rodrigues’ imagination: Pilate (the Inquisitor), Judas (Kichijiro), and Jesus (Rodrigues). Our hero develops a complex and compares his struggles and hardships with those of Christ. Without a doubt, trying to be like Jesus isn’t a bad thing. Imitatio Christi is good – yet we have limitation in our imitation. There are some things that were only intended for Jesus to undertake (e.g., die for the sins of the world). As Silence unfolds, Rodrigues’ romanticized illusion of martyrdom intensifies. Is he really the savior of this flock? Is he on a mission or a conquest?2


Wabi-Sabi 3

Legend has it that an aspiring disciple of the Way of the Tea, Sen no Rikyu, sought the tutelage of a tea-master, Takeeno Joo. First lesson? Tend the garden. Rikyu, with delicate precision, presented an immaculate garden before the tea master, but not before shaking a cherry tree, resulting in the perfect garden being scattered with a few random leaves.

In the 15th century an aesthetic and worldview in Japan began to manifest. Rikyu was revered as one who embodied its very essence. Wabi-sabi originated as a reaction against the popular lavish depictions of beauty in art at that time. In contrast to predominant forms of the day, wabi-sabi emphasized imperfection, impermanence, finitude, and authenticity.

A contemporary example might help us to understand. In the recent TV show The Man in the High Castle, there is an entire episode in which Nobusuke Tagomi (Trade Minister of the Pacific States) repairs a broken white coffee mug. We’d probably expect him to use some sort of white lacquer to distract any attention from previous cracks; however, he doesn’t do that. Instead, Tagomi uses what looks like a gold lacquer to highlight the imperfections (which is very wabi-sabi of Tagomi).

In Silence Rodrigues’ romantic vision of Christianity is one that exists as if there are no cracks. Filled by lofty propositional truths, and a God on a high and mighty throne, Rodrigues does his best to muster up strength to remain faultless. Continuing up the path of the hero, he repeatedly fails to recognize the cracks in his armor.


The Way of the Saint 4

Not all literary gurus agree that Campbell’s analysis of the monomyth—an all-encompassing existential metanarrative with variegated threads—is entirely accurate. In lieu of the monomyth, Frank J. Ambrosio has argued there are actually two paradigms: the way of the hero and the way of the saint. Whereas the hero is on the path towards the goal of achieving self-fulfillment and glorious honor, the saint is guided by love and a responsibility towards the other and one’s community. Both the hero and the saint are on the same quest—the meaning of life—but arrive at two different conclusions.


From Hero to Saint? (SPOILER)

At the dénouement of Silence, Rodrigues is brought face to face with his mentor, the alleged apostate Ferreira. Up to this point, Rodrigues had witnessed multiple Japanese Christians suffer torturous conditions and death. Doubt is at a fever pitch. Rodrigues even tells some of his flock to step on the fumi-e (image of Jesus) to escape this unbearable situation; our hero, however, would not concede.

Reminiscent of a stubborn athlete, our hero will not budge. And just like a coach (or person in charge) disciplining the stubborn player, by making the whole team suffer for the one who thinks they are in the right – paining the player to no end – likewise, the Inquisitor causes the village to suffer because of Rodrigues’ refusal to recant.

But the confrontation with Ferreira proves a formidable challenge. Despite Rodrigues’ stalwart attempts, Ferreira appears to be a goner.

Or is he? The once-priest tells him Japan is a swamp. The gospel will not take root in this land. The “Christians” there aren’t really Christians but syncretists (an aside which raises a host of questions regarding contextualization).

Later that night, our hero is presented with the greatest challenge. After complaining about the loud snoring, Rodrigues is informed that the sound is actually coming from the suffering of other Japanese Christians. This is the breaking point, and the most controversial scene in the movie. Ferreira invites Rodrigues to engage in the hardest act of love he will ever face—to trample the fumi-e—and thus end the torture. As declared by his opponents throughout, he is assured it will only be a “formality.”

A fumi-e tile, or “stepping-on picture,” shown to suspected Christians in 17th century Japan. This piece has been on display in Nagasaki.

As Rodrigues gazes upon the fumi-e, the silence is unbroken. The voice of Jesus whispers, “Go ahead now. It’s all right. Step on me. I understand your pain. I was born into this world to share men’s pain. I carried this cross for your pain. Your life is with me now. Step.”

And so in deep despair, Rodrigues relinquishes the pursuit of victory – the hero’s journey— and accepts defeat for the sake of love. He steps on the fumi-e. Rodrigues undergoes a Christian version of wabi-sabi; through weakness, his armor is cracked and filled by the power of Christ. Effectually, he participates in the death of Christ, and begins his journey anew toward the way of the saint.

Or maybe that is my hope? I desire that in the end Rodrigues was faithful despite what appears to be apostasy. Could it have been just a matter of formality? What even is apostasy? Is it just a declaration, an assent? What about being a functional apostate in the day-to-day without publicizing it? Could it be just an example of “alternative facts”?

There are so many questions raised by this film, and ultimately I think what we desire is resolution and certitude. But only one thing is certain to me in this film (as I suspect in the book): it’s a shroud of mystery. The world of Silence isn’t clear-cut black and white, but full of grey and confusion. Maybe Rodrigues was a hero, a saint, or both?

The conclusion of the movie remains murky. One of the more heartbreaking consequences is that our (ex)hero-saint must spend the rest of his life exiled in Japan without the fellowship of other believers (even this statement can be scrutinized, for I suspect that a touching reunion and reconciliation with Kichijiro (“Judas”) in the final scene may suggest otherwise). With few exceptions, God ultimately calls, gathers, and sends Christians out together as the communion of the saints, not in isolation.

My one-year-old daughter and I try to walk to the park whenever it’s warm enough to go see the ducks at the pond. Yesterday we saw an aberration. After visiting the pond almost daily for the past three weeks, we saw a stranger to these parts: the heron. Sticking out like a sore thumb, this majestic bird immediately grabbed the attention of my daughter, but this time she didn’t say, “duck.” She knew it was different and mysterious. As we observed for a few minutes, we noticed that although the ducks, geese, and heron inhabited the same pond, it was clear that the heron wasn’t welcomed. A few geese even hissed at it. Staring quietly as mere bystanders, we watched the heron remain by itself, all alone, in the marshy-like terrain, and in that moment I was reminded of Rodrigues.



Viewer discretion advised. This film is rated R for violent content.

Click here to watch a conversation with Martin Scorsese on faith and film recently hosted by Fuller Theological Seminary.


  1. I first heard this concept from Pastor/Author, Tim Suttle:
  2. This blog was helpful in identifying these themes:
  3. See J.R. Briggs Fail (Kindle location 1905)
  4. Suttle, ibid.

Cole Bodkin ~ Thy Kingdom Come

Enjoy this meditation from our archives from Rev. Cole Bodkin.



When the holiday season rolls around, emphasis is placed on the Big Three: Advent, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. What would happen if we started celebrating the Big Two—Advent and Christmas—instead of the Big Three?

Christians may forget that Advent marks the beginning of the Christian calender year. It entails celebrating two events simultaneously: Jesus’ first coming and his second coming. The lectionary texts during Advent orient themselves more towards the latter, and it might be worthwhile to suggest that we do likewise.

It’s high time that we get back to celebrating the Christian New Year with as much anticipation as watching the ball drop at Times Square. Maybe we should realign ourselves with the liturgical seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Pentecost, and the season after Pentecost. In doing so, we may find ourselves getting caught up in the story of Jesus and his people.

Most of us have tried New Year’s resolutions but have come away unsuccessfully. What if our resolutions this year were eschatologically focused instead of self-focused? How can we reorient ourselves towards the hope that Christ will come again? Here are a few suggestions inspired by John Wesley’s sermon “The Means of Grace”:

1) Prayer

Isn’t it interesting that Wesley started with prayer? Many Wesleyan Christians have been exposed to and taught to pray the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday. The early church, and those who prayed the daily hours, prayed the Lord’s Prayer three times a day. The petition “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” teaches us to look forward to when God’s kingdom will be fully consummated on earth as in heaven. This is thoroughly soaked in future hope, which, as Paul points out, is inextricably connected to Jesus’ second coming (see 1 Thessalonians 4).

This is anticipatory, too. A helpful modification to praying the Lord’s Prayer in this new year could involve substituting “earth” with whatever location or sphere of influence you are in (like city, town, church, home). Then ask yourself, “what would it look like if God were in control here?” Pray together with brothers and sisters in Christ and seek guidance from the Holy Spirit on how you can live in the present in anticipation of God’s kingdom coming on earth as in heaven.

2) Scripture

In his sermon “The Means of Grace,” John Wesley focuses on searching the Scriptures, which includes reading, hearing, and meditation. It seems that over the past several years, there has been an increased interest in how we read the Bible. The importance of how we read cannot be overstated; however, maybe of more importance is that we are  reading the Bible. Following a reading plan can be helpful. Reading three or four chapters a day isn’t hard. This New Year could be spent on reading the Bible from the front cover to the back; next year, read from the back cover to front. Soak yourself in the story of God and his people. Meditate on it, and follow how the narrative finds its culmination in Jesus of Nazareth, whose return we anticipate throughout the Advent season.

If your Church follows the lectionary, take advantage of it! If a faithful, healthy member is around for three  years, then they should hear the vast majority of Scripture, being exposed to the narrative, motifs, and themes.

3) The Lord’s Supper

Wesley urged the early Methodists to partake of the Lord’s Supper as often as possible, even going so far as encouraging constant communion. When we take the Lord’s Supper, we proclaim his death until he comes again. We look forward to when we shall gather around the table for the Messianic feast.

Each of these “means of grace” helps to place us in avenues whereby we might receive God’s grace in the present in preparation for the life that awaits us in the (re)new(ed) world. These practices anticipate when the Lord shall come again and put the world to rights.

Cole Bodkin ~ Helicopter Pilots or Farmers?

Hypermobility. Transience. Individualism. Consumerism. Nationalism.

Add to those descriptors the second half of the great commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself.

And what do you get? Helicopter love.

Helicopter Love*

A helicopter love, or lifestyle, is one in which a person has a place to live (a safe haven), but they hop into a virtualhelicopter helicopter to fly to the various places they frequent. This lifestyle is characterized by multiple disconnected relationships, multiple personalities (for each individual), rootlessness, and restlessness.

This is living above place. It is a fragmented lifestyle. It is disembodied living. We can be everywhere all the time. We have the power to do whatever we want, whenever we want, however we want.**

How has this helicopter lifestyle impacted the call to love our neighbor as ourselves?

Who is My Neighbor?**

“But wishing to justify himself, he [the lawyer] said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor’?”

If we pause for a moment, we realize that we, too, are asking the same question (or maybe we aren’t) to justify our existing neighboring. Who are our helicopter neighbors that we love?

Family, friends, co-workers…everyone, right?

When you live above place, in a fragmented, disembodied world, you do your best to love everyone, everywhere, all the time, and in many ways that is commendable; however, the folks who generally get left out are, wait for it, our actual neighbors: the people who literally live in the houses, apartment complexes, and duplexes around us. In our quest to aim our love at everyone, we often hit nothing.

The reason this happens is because they (those neighbors) also live helicopter lives (or for some, hermit lives), and therefore are strangers. We’ve been habitualized by the helicopter liturgy of our society: exit safe-haven, get into car, lock doors, open garage, reverse, shut garage, drive to destination (work) without interaction with others (except on the cell-phone), perform duties (work, shopping, eating), re-enter car, drive back to safe-haven, pull into garage, shut garage, enter safe-haven, repeat.

We’ve been conditioned to ignore those who live around us, because we’ve given into the rhythms and habits of our day.

Rooted in the Neighborhood: Neighboring 101 ***

Jesus’ response in Luke 10 is, of course, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, in which he challenges the lawyer with a PhD level kind of love—enemy love. That’s a high and lofty goal, but what is often neglected (and was already assumed) is that Samaritans and Jews were actual neighbors. Maybe before launching ourselves into loving our enemies, we should head back to the Kindergarten love beginning with loving our actual, literal neighbors.

This requires a radical reorientation of heart, mind, soul, and strength. A helpful starting place is to recover the idea of parish, in which Christians take stock (responsibility) in the spiritual vitality of the geographical area that they inhabit. Believe it or not, that’s how most churches were erected. They began in a geographical area where people could get there by foot.

Be royal priests in your hood.

So what are some practical steps?

Take a walk around your neighborhood. Pray for your neighborhood while you’re at it (“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, in ______ street as in heaven”). Be visible so that you can meet people. Be available at times when neighbors are most present (e.g., between 5-6 on weekdays; Saturday is a usual yard work day for folks).

Go to Neighborhood Association meetings. Get involved.

art-of-neighboringMore could be said, but one of the best launching pads is to fill out a Block Map. The Block Map (aka the Map of Shame) was developed by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon to give Christians tangible ways to love their literal neighbors. At the center of the map is your house, apartment, duplex, whatever you dwell. Surrounding your house are your eight closest neighbors. Now here’s the challenge: fill out the chart by getting to know your neighbors names (it’s hard to love someone if you don’t know their name), hopes, and hurts. This can create some awkwardness because most of us don’t know our neighbors, but we also need to extend ourselves some grace and remember that this is a process and a lifestyle, not a project, program or evangelism strategy. Of course, our highest hope is that our neighbors would dedicate their lives to Jesus, but we’re commanded to love them no matter how they respond to the gospel.

In It for the Long Haul

Neighboring isn’t a science but an art, and like many musicians it takes time, patience, and repetitious practice to become fluent and skilled in one’s craft. Much of this can’t be forced, and has to occur organically, but even organic fruit and veggies require laborious work from the farmer. If we are always on the go, never at home, what sort of fruit can we expect? The food we’ll partake of is fast-food, which reinforces the individualistic, consumeristic helicopter life.

I don’t think God is calling us to be helicopter pilots but rather farmers of his new creation. In order to help cultivate community_gardennew life, we must learn to slow down and observe the rhythms and patterns of the land (neighborhood), tending and tilling the soil, and willing to stay put. One of the most subversive, counter-cultural things Christians can do in these times is to stay put in one place for 30-40 years (which happens to coincide nicely with a mortgage). In doing so, we may begin to minister and regain trust that has been lost. We will be able to actually show people the way of Christ (instead of just talking about it). Maybe we, ourselves, will actually take root and flourish? If we are in it for the long haul like farmers, one sister may plant, another brother may water, but in the end we’ll be reminded that only God causes the growth (1 Corinthians 2).


* I adopted this idea from Tony Kruz at

** See Sparks, Soerens, and Friesen’s The New Parish

*** Read Pathak and Runyon’s The Art of Neighboring