We Live in the Kosmos, Not the Kingdom
Perhaps the second half of the title goes without saying for most of us. We experience grief, loss, suffering, and scorn, all things which will end when the Kingdom comes. The first half, though, is critical. "Kosmos" is a Greek word translated in John's Gospel as "world", yet its meaning is more complicated. The word literally means "ordered system or arrangement" and is the root for the English word "cosmetic". It is a theologically crucial word for us today because it reminds us that we live in a world as much created and projected by us as it is experienced by us.
St. Paul teaches us, "Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the Complete comes, the partial will come to an end." (1 Cor. 13:8-10) He teaches us that our unique gifts are not manifestations of God per se, but can point towards (or away from) God. The Complete, the Fullness, the Truth, the Ground of our being, these are words pointing us to the reality of God which sits underneath, beyond, and ultimately within our understanding of reality. And they are incomplete. There are things which are "true" in this pre-Kingdom kosmos, meaning they are ways of seeing reality that our institutions and our very lives conform to, yet they are not ultimately True, things like white supremacy and heteropatriarchy (and myriad other oppressive systems).
Obviously white supremacy is not "true" because it conflicts with a central truth we claim as Jesus' followers: we are all beloved children of God. Anything which contradicts that Truth is what I would term sinful by definition, and by definition
not true. That being said, this kosmos does not regard Belovedness as Truth (which is why the phrase "Black Lives Matter" is as much a paradox as it is a Truth). The thing about Truth, just like faith, is that until the Complete comes, we
all must accept that we have at best a partial grasp of truth, and that we must assert that things are true in order for us to live collectively in a shared truth. White supremacy is a kosmos truth that has been collectively shared, reinforced, institutionalized, and embodied for dozens of generations, weaving itself into our laws, our communities, our relationships, and our very bodies. The only way we can remove it is if we can learn to see it and name it. We have to be capable of
distinguishing between the truths of the kosmos and the Truth of God.
Communities following Jesus should be able, with great ease, to proclaim, "Black Lives Matter". At the same time, they must be willing to admit that in the kosmos we live and move and have our being in, this is not the case. I have within me an
arranged order of human value, and it is a hierarchy. In the kosmos of my mind, I have learned that some people are more worthy than others, which is the surest sign that I do not live in the Kingdom. It is no surprise that the first words out of
Jesus' mouth in Mark's Gospel are, "Repent and trust in the Good News: the Kingdom of God has come near." Repentance is essential for experiencing the difference between the kosmos and the Kingdom. As Christians who believe ourselves to be white, the time has come to dig deep into our beliefs about whiteness and the perversion it brings about to the imago Dei (both ours and others). Our faith calls us not to claim the Truth, but to repent of our kosmos and seek
God's Kingdom. May we have the stamina and the humility to do so.
In peace, Pastor Andrew