Wednesday, November 10, 2004

forever people, kingdom people

When one reads Ralph C Wood's beautiful article about the life and recent untimely death of A J (Chip) Conyers called "The Groves of Academe: A Man Alive in the Midst of Death" it's quite easy to imagine Wood weeping as he wrote. It's obvious from his tribute that he respected and loved the former professor of theology professor at Baylor University's George W. Truett Theological Seminary.

It wasn't that Chip wanted to avoid the morose subject. Exactly to the contrary: he had so fully come to terms with his death that he wanted to get on with his work, and thus to talk about the coming semester, the books we were reading, the theological ideas that we were percolating, the students who showed special promise. Thus did he embody—like none other I've ever known—the central Christian conviction that we are already living in the New Age, that the Kingdom of God is not an idealistic hope to be realized in some far off time but a present reality in our midst, that in Christ and his church we are made living witnesses of the glad tidings that by death he has done down death.

Wood's comments reminded me of one of my favorite Malcolm Muggeridge passages from his wonderful Chronicles of Wasted Time:

How can I ever explain to those who insist that we must believe in the world to love it that it is because I disbelieve in the world that I love every breath I take, look forward with ever-greater delight to the coming of each spring, rejoice ever more in the companionship of my fellow-humans, to no single one of whom – searching my heart – do I wish ill, and from no single one of whom do I wish to separate myself, in word or thought or deed, or in the prospect of some other existence beyond the ticking of the clocks, the vista of the hills, the bounds and dimensions of our earthly hopes and desires? To accept this world as a destination rather than a staging-post, and the experience of living in it as expressing life’s full significance, would seem to me to reduce life to something too banal and trivial to be taken seriously or held in esteem.

In other words, the Christian proposition that he that loves his life in this world shall lose it, and he that hates his life in this world shall see it projected and glorified into eternity, is for living, not for dying. After all, it was a St Francis who truly loved the world he so gaily abjured, as his enchanting prayers and canticles convey; not a Pere Goriot who so cherished its commodities. It is misers and Don Juans who moan; spendthrifts and saints are always laughing.

All I can claim to have learnt from the years I have spent in this world is that the only happiness is love, which is attained by giving, not receiving; and that the world itself only becomes the dear and habitable dwelling place it is when we who inhabit it know we are migrants, due when the time comes to fly away to other more commodious skies.

Conyers and Muggeridge seemed to understand what it means to be forever people.

A couple of years ago, Ginkworld's John O'Keefe asked me "what do you see as the most important issue facing this generation?" Part of my response was:

People of accomplishment are striving to accomplish too much or, in the alternative, throwing all of their resources at accomplishing one thing with a monomaniacal focus. Either too many goals or too much focus on one goal have the same result: a loss of stability in other areas of life, whether it be family, or work, or your body, or church. And I’m not talking about seasons of chosen imbalance; everyone has those - whether it’s the purchase of a house, the birth of new baby, or getting a start-up off the ground and into profitability. I’m talking about something that’s become “routinized.”


These factors and others rob us of our lives; they also rob us of one another. And they are perfectly natural to the extent that we believe that what we see is all we have and that everything around us is all there is. In other words, people of time must live differently because they must accumulate and then horde all the resources they will eventually lose. Christians are people of time and of eternity. They are right-now and forever people. They can afford to live at a more measured pace because they have a different agenda and a treasure elsewhere.

Unfortunately, forever people increasingly live as if they also are trapped by time. But not those who understand joy.

We often hear – as our Lord taught - that our two highest responsibilities are to love God will all that is within and to love those beside us as we love ourselves. What is not heard as often – but was understoodd by folk like Augustine and CS Lewis - is that the fulfilling of our highest responsibilities is the path to our highest joy.

This intoxicating joy in the One at whose right hand there are pleasures forever (Psalm 16:11) helps us – to modify a Pauline phrase – to cast aside the light and momentary pleasures that would distract us. And the apostle reveals where else he found joy when we remarked, “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?” (1 Thessalonians 3:9).

So I could superficially answer the question that what we need is a new sense of time. But that wouldn’t address the heart of the matter: What’s the most important issue facing this generation? a new vision of God. We need to drink deep drafts of who He is and lose ourselves in His wonder, enraptured by his love and magnificence. That will then drive our agenda because, like Paul, we’ll be able to say that the love of Christ constrains us. Our PIMs will submit to his passion.

One of the best exercises I learned from Stephen Covey was his funeral exercise:

Imagine you are at your own funeral.
Your significant other will speak.
A co-worker will speak.
Someone from your job will speak.
A best friend will speak.
And someone from your church will speak.

Write out what you wish for them to say.

Now plan your life.

God help us to keep our eye on the ball.

Wood lets us know that Conyer's last book The Listening Heart: Vocation and the Crisis of Modern Culture is about to be published. I can't think of a more wonderful gift from someone aware that they are about to join the ages.

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