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The Competing Kingdoms

The kingdom of the heavens that Jesus describes has been depicted as God’s reality. It’s where we can find wisdom, peace, joy, power, and fullness of life. In short, we find ourselves. There are, of course, other competing kingdoms. They also claim fullness of life and getting everything we want. One is the kingdom of the Mall.

Philosopher James A.K. Smith, in a lecture at Calvin College, uses a Shopping Mall to depict a very powerful message too. The Mall says we can be thin. We can look cool. We’ll be accepted if we wear these hip clothes. The angelic icons of Victoria’s Secret show us this can indeed be achieved.

But we cry out, so what? It’s no big deal. We all want to be fashionable, and keep up with the Joneses – nothing wrong with that, right? The problem, Smith notes, is that this consumer behavior forms a mind-set. Smith points out that our behavior, not our beliefs, tells the story of who we are. It informs us of who we are.

We may be innocently shopping, but the Kingdom of the Mall is at work on our desires, telling us who we are, and how we can be better. It taps into that deep-seated belief that we’re not good enough, but don’t worry, the Mall can fix it.

Rather than reflect upon being the wonder of God’s creation and what it means to live in relationship with God, and unleash our full potential, we are constantly pulled to find our purpose and meaning from the things of other kingdoms. Although we all know “things” are empty, we think our thinking can overcome the results of our actions.

We know that “things” don’t define us, but our actions can and do define us. They shape and form us. Our behavior “forms” a very different story of us than what we think.

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t go to the mall. Rather we need to be aware of the pull of that kingdom. With this in mind, perhaps we can have a new appreciation for religious behavior, as well as the actions of prayer, meditation, and reflection – all of which help folks to grasp the kingdom of God.

The talk from Smith is below, and well worth an hour of our time.

Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson


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