(79) S5E3 SOTM: Amber

Continuing the Sermon on the Mount working through Mt. 5:13-16 and Mt. 6:24.

  • Richard Rohr's "Sermon on the Mount": https://www.amazon.com/dp/B003A0IASQ/ref=cm_sw_r_em_api_uOXEFbGCN7ASQ
  • Dallas Willard's "The Divine Conspiracy": https://www.amazon.com/Divine-Conspiracy-Rediscovering-Hidden-Life/dp/0007596545/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=dallas+willard+divine+conspiracy&qid=1601907374&sr=8-1

Desert browns, palette formed where there's no rain
A sign of lifelessness and compromise
Same for those amidst amber waves - the grain
Where life and living are dichotomized
But God made us, when we're rubbed up against
To polarize ourselves in shocking ways
Not to build and electrify a fence
But attract opposites with our displays
So build your city high upon a hill
A Kingdom outpost, not a nation-state
For true citizenship can't be distilled
As salt's no longer salt without its taste
Flavor and brightness should draw others in
But only works if we're God's citizens

[Mt. 5:13-16 and Mt. 6:24]. Amber is a brownish stone which has long been recognized for its ability to become charged and exhibit the properties of static electricity. I use both of these properties throughout the poem. 
The endless brown of the desert depicts a wasteland of life. Without vegetation there is no visible life, but only that which cowers away hiding from the elements for the majority of the day, awaiting the cool darkness of night. That which does live in the desert must compromise with its environment. Whereas a deer living in a temperate climate, like in Florida, can gather food all year long and come out and enjoy its surroundings, night or day – those in the desert are wholly shaped by their environment. While the various adaptations may look different, each animal is specifically adapted for their extreme environment. They are formed by the desert. 
I change environments here from the desert to the United States. The first line here is supposed to allude to the “amber waves of grain” line in the song “God Bless America.” I’m talking about those who live in the land of these amber waves of grain (the USA). Whereas the song references this as a beautiful thing, the idea of amber in this poem should connect back to the brown referenced earlier, which depicts lifelessness, barren desert, and compromise. I also change the words from “of grain” to “the grain” because I also want to ensure that the ones I’m speaking of here are those who not only live in the USA, but rather those who live there and live with or go with the grain. I am not therefore necessarily speaking badly of the USA or everyone who lives in it, but rather those who, like the desert animals, are shaped by the vacuous culture around them. I simply use the States because that’s my frame of reference. While conformers to culture may technically be alive, and while their adaptations and compromises may help to sustain their lives, in some senses we could argue that they aren’t truly living. They don’t live a fulfilled life. Like animals in the desert who are bound to their environment and aren’t truly free, so are those who live in a culturally compromised position and go along with Babylon. This could be said of any culture.  
When amber is rubbed on the right material, the atoms polarize in their alignment which creates static electricity. Children of God, when confronted with or rubbed up against by culture are to do the same. We are not to conform to our culture and be shaped by it, but are rather to be polarized and distinguished from it. 
When I argue that we should be polarized, I don’t mean that in a pejorative or escapist sense. We aren’t to cause conflict and remove ourselves from the world. Rather, our polarization – how uniquely and beautifully we are set apart – should be something those living in the desert of Babylon are attracted to. Our polarization is not something meant to distance ourselves, but something that is meant to draw others in. We don’t use our religious standards to build electric fences around God and community, keeping others out. In this sense, “a fence” is meant to also mean “offense.” Rather, we use our electrical powers to stimulate and pull others towards us. In Amber, this polarization produces static electricity which is infamous for its ability to attract certain objects and cause them to cling to it.
This is a specific reference to Matthew 5 and the idea of a city on a hill. We are not primarily members of Babylon – our individual country or nation-state. We are citizens of the Kingdom. The city we build is not a city in or for our humanly created nation, but for our heavenly nation. Our citizenship is in heaven and as Christ makes the nations his footstool, we are to be the outposts of that Kingdom that are beginning to convert human citizenship into heavenly citizenship. 
This citizenship of heaven isn’t dual citizenship. We aren’t equally citizens of two places. We are primarily citizens of heaven. There can be no compromise (see I Peter for a great look at this). While we submit to rulers in our nation-states, we only obey and follow the Kingdom. To distill our allegiance at all to the Kingdom is to cause our saltiness to lose it’s flavor (another Matthew 5 allusion). If we attempt to distill our citizenship – to separate the salt of the Kingdom from the water of this world, you end up with two separate products, only one of which has saltiness. The Kingdom is all or nothing. We cannot serve two masters. If we are salt and water, we are diluted, and if we are salt separated from water, we are useless. Mixtures are physically, not chemically combined substances, which is what Christians are to be. We are always salt in the water, never salt and water. If we are members of the Kingdom, we are to be salt in this world, but our identity is not dichotomous. We are not of this world – we are not water. We are only salt. As Peter says, we are aliens in this world. 
To be a bright city or tasty salt is only possible if we recognize our true and only citizenship. We can’t draw others to God by being a “Christian nation.” We draw others in by living the Kingdom and drawing them into that and refusing to be a church who is anything other than Christ’s spiritual nation. The nations in which we live are accidental properties (philosophically meaning properties which are “not necessary”) which matter very little and have no ultimate meaning for who we are or who we are to be.

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