the subversive nature of christ the king sunday...

So, the Advent/Christmas Eve liturgies are done, the press releases for our Sunday concert
have been updated and an emerging albeit humble youth ministry calendar is starting to take shape. This Sunday we will bring the church year to a close with Christ the King Sunday. Now I've been challenged by both the name of this feast day as well as the traditional theology and imagery of Christus Victor. Not the power of God's love conquering fear and death, but rather the notion that Christ now sits as eternal judge over heaven and earth. That just doesn't ring true with the testimony of faith.

First the name: Americans don't know what to do with the title of king. Our political history neither embraces that realm nor does our psychological imagination grasp the deeper wisdom of the archetype.To add insult to injury, Christ as King underscores the unquestionably masculine limitations of our language as well as its legacy of discrimination and oppression. This dilemma has given birth to such anemic substitutions as the "kindom of God" or "the dominion of Christ." Try as I might, these alternatives leave me cold. They fail to grasp the theological irony of Christ's kingdom with weak poetry and forced but incomplete analogies.

So, I've bitten the bullet and tried to own the word king in all of its mythopoetic grandeur. Both Douglas Gillette and Robert L. Moore have done some insightful work into this realm. Starting with their neo-Jungian book - King, Warrior, Magician, Lover in 1990 - they have helped reclaim the maturation process for contemporary men rather than honoring our culture's obsession with youth and immaturity. To integrate the psychological and spiritual wisdom of aging and experience is a journey of a lifetime.  But without it, the shadow of the king - the tyrant - rules within and without.

In the psyche of the man, the King archetype is the central archetype, around which the rest of the psyche is organized. If the King energy in us is weak, our psyche falls in disarray, and chaos threatens our lands. The man who is constantly overwhelmed by life - who can't seem to find harmony or order - must develop the King energy, often in conjunction with Warrior energy to protect his borders.

The two main functions of the King are:

1.   Live according to the Tao, the Dharma, the Word, and the lands will flourish

2.   Bring fertility and blessing. The King is the masculine equivalent of the Great Mother, and he is wed to the lands. The king's vitality and sexuality directly reflect on his kingdom.


For me, these are some of liberating ways I make sense of the word king. The theology of Christus Victor has been equally challenging. It flows more from Roman hierarchy and a control model than the witness of Jesus in Scripture. And that may be its deeper beauty: this is a king who has become the servant of all. It is the upside down kingdom where we move towards God by going down rather than up. It is about acceptance, not power - joy rather than control - compassion instead of conquest. As I have started to prepare for Sunday I have been drawn once again to St. John's story of how Jesus washes the feet of his friends:  do this for one another for this is my new commandment - that you love one another as I have loved you - a very different type of king, yes?

And that's why I want to use the word king: to challenge and subvert its limited and oppressive definitions with the better way of foolish love, compassion and servant hood.   Barbara Brown Taylor has written that the only way  we truly learn new insights about God is when they touch our flesh. We grow in wisdom when we DO the will of this upside down king. Then the Word becomes flesh indeed full of truth and grace. 

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