City on a Landslide

Weary World: Advent 2022

I’m in a bar and everyone around me is drunk when a friend of a friend at the table next to me says, “Church? Man, fuck Jesus.” The mutual friend shoots her a look and she apologizes, which is kind but unnecessary. I always appreciate authenticity, and inebriation is good at authenticity because it makes us forget our filters. Besides that, she’s doing holy work, I think, cursing out Jesus in a too-loud sports bar. In Matthew 5:13, Jesus himself reminds us that salt that loses its saltiness is worthless. It should be walked over and thrown out. This friend of a friend is simply looking around, seeing a busted-out light on a distant hill and calling it darkness.


Today marks the arrival of a new season in the Christian calendar. Today is the first Sunday of Advent, marking our transition from Ordinary Time to the prepatory time for Christmastide. For Christians, this is a time of waiting with expectation for the coming of the Christ child. Advent is a season in which we as Christians heighten our relationship with generosity, joy, gratitude, hope, and love. It is a time for cheerful and eager expectation. for that hope our souls deeply long for, and a time for contemplation as we make ready the world for Christ’s arrival. On the first Sunday, in churches around the world, clergy light the hope candle and reflect on God’s people as beacons of light in the world.

As illustrated in the story above, I’m not sure how well we as a people have done in being lights unto the world, quietly pointing towards the coming hope of the savior. Many of us have given into the temptation of Nationalism. Our sanctuaries have turned from reverent to commercial. We’ve become too interested in laws over relationships. And the weary world, desperate to make sense of the senseless, to find joy amidst the suffering, to find somewhere to belong, has taken notice. The light of the world is missing because we are being a faithless people.

And yet, as I write to you, my friends, on this first day of the Advent season, I am still full of hope for God’s people. I am still hopeful on behalf of the weary world. The problems we are facing as a Body are not new. In Jesus’ life, the main adversaries to his ministry were not atheists; they were the religious. These leaders prioritized legalism over love, rightness over relationship, political power over humble suffering. Jesus’ birth, his life, and his eventual death, are completely wrapped up in the struggle for and against God’s own people. We cannot have a discussion about Christmas without having a discussion about the failures of God’s people.

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about. His mother Mary and Joseph had promised to get married. But before they started to live together, it became clear that she was going to have a baby. She became pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph was faithful to the law. But he did not want to put her to shame in public. So he planned to divorce her quietly.

But as Joseph was thinking about this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. The angel said, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary home as your wife. The baby inside her is from the Holy Spirit. She is going to have a son. You must give him the name Jesus. That’s because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to bring about what the Lord had said would happen. He had said through the prophet, “The virgin is going to have a baby. She will give birth to a son. And he will be called Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) The name Immanuel means “God with us.”

Joseph woke up. He did what the angel of the Lord commanded him to do. He took Mary home as his wife. But he did not sleep with her until she gave birth to a son. And Joseph gave him the name Jesus.

Matthew 1:18-25 NIRV

In Matthew’s account of the time leading up to Jesus’ birth, we see Joseph caught up in a legalistic scandal. The woman he is supposed to marry has been both unfaithful and impure. She’s pregnant and there’s no way it could be his. Even in the midst of the legalistic requirement to leave her, Joseph tries his best to be kind. He plans to “divorce her quietly” so as to not “put her to shame in public.” We don’t get reactions to Mary’s pregnancy from many others in the gospel accounts, but if Joseph’s initial reaction is any indication, I think we can imagine the horror Mary faced from the faithful around her. She’s the epitome of everything the traditional religious person hates. Today, we might think about Mary as a gay, drug-addicted, immigrant woman on her way out from an abortion clinic. She’s who preachers are talking about when they speak of the corrupted culture of today’s youth. She’s the failure of all her community’s dreams.

Obviously, as Joseph comes to learn, Mary has been called by God. This is a holy woman, not an impure one.

This is similar to how we experience life today. We don’t often get to see behind the curtains of someone’s life. We don’t see how God has called them, or how God is working in their life. All that we see is their behavior. We see the things they’ve committed, the people they’re surrounded by, the places they’ve ended up. And we compare that to the scriptures, to a right way of living, to the things we claim to believe but rarely practice for ourselves.

I have to wonder, in reading this account of an almost divorce, how wrong have I been about what I perceived was happening in my neighbor’s life? What assumptions did I use to guide my judgements on another person?

I am hopeful about the state of God’s people amidst all the grief they have caused me, my community, my friends and the people they love. I am hopeful because despite our ragged, assuming humanity, God is bringing a child to save the world. All that we need to do is love our wife, despite our failure to understand.

As you move through this first week of advent, consider how your own assumptions and behaviors have dimmed your light and have impacted your ability to represent Jesus to the least of these. Consider how you can feed the hungry simply because you have an extra loaf of bread and not because you are the self-righteous coming to redeem the starved. Reflect on how you might facilitate the passing of God’s love rather than enforcing the consequences of God’s laws. Ask God to intercede in your life and in your faith community to be people that get others curious about God’s redemptive mercy, not cursing out the son in a bar because Christians have been so unkind.

Have hope in your redemption, Church, but have the active kind of hope that moves.

Prayer: Deliver to us, the many-times-great-grandson of the sex worker Rahab, Lord, that we might learn to see you in unexpected places. Break us of our communal fears, that you might speak to us and reveal your plans. Make me a person of light, Lord, that I might die to myself to shine to your humble and simplistic reign.

Bryce Van Vleet is the #1 selling author of Tired Pages and Before We All Die Let’s Have One Last Chat by the Fireside. He also hosts the podcast Death in Dakota and sells poetry art here. You can support him by clicking through blog posts or donating (scroll to the bottom of the page).

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God Bless America

Shaky Kingdom: A Tiny Series on Christian Nationalism | Day 4

The last lie from Christian nationalists that we will discuss is the lie that America is the principal interest of God. From its inception, America the empire has confused itself with the empire of God. Manifest Density was the belief that God ordained the colonists to overtake and civilize the indigenous peoples, to claim their land as some twisted version of the promised land. When we speak of America like this – that it is God’s nation, that America is a Christian nation, that God is concerned with American First policies, that God should bless America over its adversaries, is to say that all of America, present, past, and future, is analogous with God.

Some of this might be true. America is founded (though not necessarily executed) on the idea that all people are free. In the same way, the Gospel is concerned with the elimination of societal definitions of inclusion so that all people might benefit from the love and grace of Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:28). America has programs (though not necessarily effective) designed to come alongside widows and orphans (James 1:27). America has acres of natural beauty that testifies to the glory of God (Job 12:7-10). It is undeniable that some of America’s goals as an empire overlap with the goals of Christ’s Kingdom.

And yet, the nationalists are convinced that God is only concerned with the interests of America, and that any enemy of America is an enemy of God. In the same way that it is true that America is concerned with the elimination of disparate social groups, it is true that America is deeply concerned with the preservation of certain social groups, and the elimination of others. White women did not gain equal participation in the empire of America until over a century after its founding. People who were not White did not gain equal participation in the empire of America until almost two centuries into its existence. America has served widows and orphans, but it has also created them in the genociding of people groups and the bombing of countries in the pursuit of democracy. America has learned from the beauty of the nature within it, and desecrated it to earn money and claim its dominion.

When this world passes away, and the new creation is wrought (Isaiah 65:17), we will not see only English-speaking Americans tilling the soil. Indeed, there will be people from all nations, speaking in all tongues (Revelation 7:9). Whoever America hates – Iraqis and Russians and Chinese – and whoever Nationalists hate – teachers and democrats and police officers – will inhabit heaven alongside whoever it loves. God is in the interest of reconciling all the descendants of Adam, not just the ones we like or who serve our same interests.

Prayer: God of the multitude, help us destroy the idols of language and nation so that we may devote ourselves more fully toward the Kingdom of God instead of the Kingdom of Man. Break our expectations of the limits of grace. Lead us to places we consider too foreign, so that we might see your mercy and creative spark is limited only by our capacity to experience it.

Further learning:   

Flags on Sunday

Anabaptist Perspectives Episode 174: How Empire and Colonialism Perverted Missions


The Real Response to Persecution

Shaky Kingdom: A Tiny Series on Christian Nationalism | Day 3

As I mentioned in the first day of this tiny series, Christian Nationalists operate on the power of fear, particularly on the fear of persecution. Christian values, and Christians by extension, are under attack in this country. This is shocking, wrong, and in desperate need of fixing. Or, is it? Today, we take a look at how the Bible, not Nationalists, respond to persecution.


Expectation versus Surprise

Christian Nationalists try to shock you into believing that persecution is surprising. You need to be very alarmed and scandalized that Christianity is under attack, which is interesting given the Bible’s frequent prediction of Christian persecution.

Paul in his second letter to Timothy writes, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” (2:12-13 NIRV). Jesus himself forewarned his followers of their impending persecution: “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” (John 15:19-20). 

The truth is that you have never been promised an easy life as a believer in Jesus. You should expect to suffer for the sake of the gospel. Anyone who wants to coax you into shock at a little adversity wants something from you.

Joy versus Anger

Christian Nationalists want you to be angry and dismayed by your supposed persecution. They want to mobilize your anger to elect them into office and arm yourselves to complete acts of violence against image bearers.

In Jesus’ most famous sermon, he gives you the true reaction to actual persecution: “Blessed are those who suffer for doing what is right. The kingdom of heaven belongs to them. Blessed are you when people make fun of you and hurt you because of me. You are also blessed when they tell all kinds of evil about you because of me. Be joyful and glad. Your reward in heaven is great. In the same way, people hurt the prophets who lived long ago.”

Anyone who is trying to convince you to fear or be angry about your persecution is focused on the weight of what this world can do. Do not fear for such fickle, temporary things. A person of real faith, a person you should listen to, will tell you to focus on what happens when you arrive home. Rejoice and be glad in any ill that comes your way because of the gospel of Christ. Keep your eyes focused on the kingdom and let the fruits of the spirit (love, joy, and peace) replace the fruits of the nationalists (hatred, anger, and anxiety).

Strength versus Weakness

Christian Nationalists want you to think about your strengths and your power. They want you to put them in positions of influence and power. They want control and authority. They want to boast in their strength.

Paul discourages the church of Corinth from such ideas: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is all you need. My power is strongest when you are weak.’ So I am very happy to brag about how weak I am. Then Christ’s power can rest on me. Because of how I suffered for Christ, I’m glad that I am weak. I am glad in hard times. I am glad when people say mean things about me. I am glad when things are difficult. And I am glad when people make me suffer. When I am weak, I am strong.”

The voices you should be listening to will be bragging about their positions in prisons, not palaces. The more suffering you endure, the less room you take up of yourself. When you have nothing, you make room for the One who has everything to enter in.

Prayer: Make me tiny, Lord, so that you might be visible to those around me. Make me weak, Lord, so that you are my only source of strength. Jail me, Lord, so that I may know where freedom comes from.

A Tiny Introduction to the Great Lie

Shaky Kingdom: A Tiny Series on Christian Nationalism | Day 1

The principle lie of Christian nationalism is that right now, you need to be very, very afraid.

In most churches around this country, there are people doing everything they can to convince fellow congregates that the government is stealing their rights as Christians away. In place of the spirited, testifying tongues detailed in the Acts 2 account of Pentecost, many Christians today are deeply concerned with exceptionally earthly matters. Regardless of what issue or issues that are of primary concern for them, Christian Nationalists want you to be deeply afraid.

They want you to be angry, to be shocked and surprised. And, as an antidote to this overwhelming fear, anger, shock, and surprise, they want you to reclaim power. By taking power, you reestablish yourself as a leader over that which fears you. By chopping off the head of your adversary, you quench your anger. By taking back control, you shift the unequal distribution of power so that you now hold the element of surprise.   

As we walk through this brief series together, I want to ask you to ignore and actively refute this great lie overtaking your siblings and thriving in your churches. I want you to take refuge in the gifts of Christ and to lead the lost among your congregation to the yoke that is easy. I’m asking you to reject what Paul calls the spirit of fear and timidness (2 Timothy 1:7).

In 2 Timothy, Paul also encourages us to receive the gift of power, but I want you to pay attention to the difference between how Paul conceptualizes power and how Christian Nationalists conceptualize power.


For the Nationalist, power comes through political overtaking. In order to “restore” Christ to power, we need to elect a certain politician, pass a particular policy, or destroy a widespread ideology. This power is, by its very nature, humanly defined. In order to receive or establish power, you need to take action. You need to vote or give money or sign petitions or raise awareness. The emphasis is on you and the mechanism by which you attain power is on earth.

The power Paul describes in 2 Timothy 1:7 is gifted to us by way of the Spirit, and it does not come alone. The power Paul conceptualizes is coupled with love and self-control. It is not the hatred of another that motivates power-taking, it is the love of others that facilitates power-receiving. It is not an active power-taking, in which you need to rise against an exterior force. Instead, power is coupled with the act of self-restraint, in which the entity you rebel against is your own human desire and tendencies.

Over the next few days, we’ll discuss what it might look like to be a people genuinely concerned with the rot in our own communities and began to cast a vision for a countercultural liberation movement characterized by love, vulnerability, quietness, and self-restraint. This is branded as a tiny series because the problem of Christian Nationalism is generational and gigantic in its scope. I won’t have all the answers on how we solve this overwhelming and dangerous trend, but my hope is that the Spirit might be fed by your attention to this issue, and that you might be encouraged to combat it each time it rears its head.

Prayer: Give me doubt against the fear from my misguided impressions of the world. Give me the courage to trust that a holy war is waged with surrender. Give me an accurate vision of myself that I might repent for what I have done and better align myself with the vision you have of me in your world.


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