Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

Kathy Hanson on The Good News

Illustration by Nidhi Balwada from India

Illustration by Nidhi Balwada from India

This entry is a part of an on-going blog series called The Good News, which is taking place throughout the Easter Season, from Easter to Pentecost. A full list of the contributors can be found here. Kathy’s local newspaper is The Ames Tribune. Here is Kathy Hanson on the Good News. She entitles this entry – The Gospel Bears Fruit.

THE GOOD NEWS

There’s a community of radical inclusion in my town. It’s called Beyond Welfare, because it arose from the experience of women who formed a support group while they were on welfare. Through the experience, they realized to break the cycle of poverty, people need deeply reciprocal relationships that define them by their strengths instead of their deficiencies.

For nearly 15 years, the BW community has helped people, especially those who have never experienced poverty, to become conscious they all need “money, meaning and friends,” and that the healthiest relationships are formed in a community based on forgiveness, reconciliation, restoration and reciprocity.

By embracing all people, especially those marginalized by race, habituated into poverty, coming out of prison, and ostracized for their sexual orientation or developmental challenges, BW practices the attitudes of the beatitudes, grows the fruit of the spirit and transforms lives.

It’s like it has Jesus’ fingerprints all over it. And like Jesus’ life and ministry, it embodies a critique of the dominant practices of society, politics and religion.

But.

It ’s not affiliated with any church and Jesus’ name is never used.

So I’m perplexed.

What would Jesus say about BW’s relationship to the gospel?

The question brings to mind one of the most bizarre stories in the Bible: the one where Jesus curses a fig tree for not bearing fruit.

It’s baffling, because he curses the tree even though it’s too early in the season for figs.

Some sources suggest that in the spring certain varieties of fig trees bear small precursors of the true figs that come later. But if a fig tree leafs out without the early fruit, it’s a sign there’ll be no figs. Since the tree Jesus found had “nothing but leaves,” he knew it would not be bearing fruit.

The gospel teaches that trusting and following Jesus results in a life transformed, through forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration-all of which make life fruitful.

But the goal of this fruitfulness is not just personal piety or assurance for the after life; it’s to build a new kind of community in this world.

In John’s account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem before the Last Supper, Jesus said if the people didn’t praise him, the stones would cry out.

What if, instead of stones crying out to praise Jesus, all the praise he wants is faithful people following his teaching, which through him, transforms lives and builds his kind of community?

I wonder if we’re so busy making the gospel a work of correct doctrine, we’re missing the point of its transforming relationships?

I’ve been involved in the BW community for more than a year. Often, I’m more aware of the power of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection when I attend its weekly meal and meeting than I am in a church that can be brittle in its certainty of who’s saved and who isn’t.

My questions are not merely rhetorical. I seriously wonder, if Jesus came to some of our churches, would he recognize the gospel? Would he find more leaves than fruit? What would he have to say about the places his name isn’t spoken but his teachings are followed and the fruit of his spirit is abundant?

Kathy Hanson is taking a hiatus from blogging at Beyond Words because she’s too busy as a wife, mother of six, grandmother of two, newspaper reporter, piano teacher, and deep lover of the kind of community to which Jesus calls us, to do it justice right now. A member of Stonebrook Church, she’s currently board president of Good Neighbor Emergency Assistance, Inc. in Ames an agency formed by faith groups who pool their recourses to help people in need. Kathy’s community newspaper is the Ames Tribune, where she works as the higher education reporter, covering everything to do with Iowa State University. She dreams of writing a book on spiritual formation in community.


7 Responses to Kathy Hanson on The Good News

  1. jrwoodward says:

    Kathy,

    Either your entry left many silent, pondering your questions or people haven’t taken the time to jump in quite yet. I know for me, I have been looking forward to making a comment, but this is my first chance to reply it what has and will be a crazy busy day.

    Your post reminded me of Jesus’ provocative subversive ways, in particular in Luke 4 when he delivered the “good news” to his hometown and his hometown was ready to throw him off the cliff. As I examine Luke 4:16-31 it seems that the scandal of Jesus’ words was that he was reminding his hometown that God’s sense of community was bigger than theirs was. He offended them by telling them not one, but two stories about how God has passed over them and their kind in order to minister to strangers. The story of Zarephath and Naaman, stories of God’s activity beyond the “people of God” – Israel.

    It seems like when Jesus was sharing these examples with his hometown it was like telling them God had become the chaplain of Osama Bin Laden, or that God has passed over a Sunday School teacher who was sick in order to take care of an ailing Hindu. I can see why they got offended and wanted to throw him over the cliff.

    But it wasn’t like he was telling them anything new. He was telling them things that were right there in their own scripture. But while they used these passages to draw lines and keep people out, Jesus was using them to let people in. And the minute that Jesus denied their special status, he went from favorite son to degenerate stranger, who offended them so badly they decided to kill him.

    It seems like we “just can’t get God to respect” our boundaries. lol. No matter how hard we try, God keeps plowing right through them, inviting us to follow or get out of the way. The problem is not that we are loved any less. The problem is that people we may not love are loved as much as we are, by a God who loves to upset our sense of community.

    It seems to me that Jesus’ love was scandalous because he continually demonstrated that it is God’s nature to love beyond the borders we often like to conceive. Thanks for your provocative entry.

  2. sonja says:

    Kathy,
    I just lost my part of the reply i was going to post as a comment by pushing the wrong button on the computer.
    Just like you to know that i was encouraged to hear about the BW and i liked your phrase: ‘ people need deeply reciprocal relationships that define them by their strengths instead of their deficiences’ .I soo approve!
    You’re sharing about the most important of Jesus call to come to this world and how its soo important ‘not to loose heart’ or sight.
    I love how you dare to disturbance the universe with those challenging questions what if Jesus was here …..
    I wish i could have a chat with you over coffee for i’m impressed with your life and personality and example as a rollmodel.You seem to enjoy the crown of beauty already of life.
    It is great to meet you on jr’s blog.

  3. Kathy says:

    Thanks,JR . Your comment is a post unto itself. And Sonja. Sonja I wish I could chat with you, too. Contact me at kathyatbeyondwords.

  4. Kathy says:

    oops sonja I mistyped my email. Kathy@beyondwordsworth.com

  5. JR Woodward says:

    Kathy,

    It’s cool to see how this blog entry is creating some interesting conversations at other places in the blogosphere.

  6. Kathy says:

    JR, I can’t find the trackbacks….

  7. Randy says:

    Thank you Kathy for the encouragement, the push and for the plug for BW! As you probably know, I have felt the same way about our experience with BW and our church.
    Peace,
    Randy

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