Sunday, March 22, 2009

Age of Empires?

I had a brief discussion the other day with a kid about a video game he was playing, "Age of Empires." The game's objective is basically what the title describes. You are tasked with building an empire. You amass wealth, develop armies and build cities all while trying to fend off enemies who are trying to take your stuff.

It got me thinking. I know that can be dangerous. Although, it did free me from some of the writer's block I have had recently. I am more and more convinced that we as a nation, over our history, have become exactly what we did not want to become; an empire. We are the world's lone remaining super power. Depending on your political view, you may have seen the invasion of Iraq as one of the most blatant examples of our use of force to force our way of living in a place where it will probably never work the way it does here. Our $450 billion defence budget is larger than the next 19 countries combined. Think about that.

No doubt, there needs to be some type of deterrent to people who would willy nilly use weapons of mass destruction to destroy innocent people in neighboring countries for the sake of "empire building" of their own. At the same time, we continue to try to dominate the world with force and be the world's policeman. This is an impossible task.

Don't get me wrong. I love living here. I have recently been in the Middle East and have found the way of life there to be brutal at times. The rights of women are often non-existent and the remnants of old empires are clashing with relatively new ideologies, neither of which are productive. I enjoy the liberties here and realize the responsibilities they carry.

Here is my worry. It is not only for our country. It is for the Church and our movement in these very difficult economic and turbulent political times. We are spending too much time protecting the empire, when in the case of the church we should be ushering in the Kingdom.

Maybe I have just become too much of a rebel or too out of touch with reality. There has been an incredible resurgence in the importance of titles in the Church and our movement. I sit in meetings with people I have known for years, as friends, and they use my rank or my position title when referring to me. This comes from lay people and from officer friends alike. In fact, there have been many times when I have just said, "You have known me 30 years. It's Larry." I wonder if it is part of the old empire mentality. Titles bring prestige and demand respect in that culture. In the world in which we live now, I believe your person brings respect. I recently have had conversations with people who believe that we demand respect by having people use our titles and were taken aback by the fact that my title was really not important to me.

I also wonder as empires shrink if the idea of protecting the empire manifests itself in the way we spend resources and market our product as the church. Is it just me or has anyone else noticed that the first thing to go when budgets get tight in the church are necessary programs or the staff that run them? Often the last thing to go are our possessions or those who account for them. After all, the church is big business.

So where does this leave us? I believe the need is not to protect the empire, that which we have built. I really believe it is time for us usher in the Kingdom. The values of the Kingdom of God are not about title, prestige, uniformity of thought and earthly possessions. They are about peace, grace, sharing in the common good, love and lifting the oppressed instead of oppressing people. The Kingdom seeks to expand not by forcing ideology, but by showing kindness without agenda, other than it is the right thing to do. It is about creatively bringing peace. It is about sharing resources not trying to get and protect what is ours. It means operating on a whole different level.

I fear we have become more about building an empire, instead of building the Kingdom. We have become more about titles and position and protecting our possessions.

So are we protecting an empire through our practices? What will it look like when we start to expand the Kingdom? Are titles really important?

What do you think?