Completely unrelated, a friend posted me this the other day:
I mentioned the PhD that a friend is doing around the whole issue of 'church and empire'; the purpose (if I understand it, which I'm not sure I do) is to identify how the 'spirit of empire' (power, control etc) has infected 'the church' over many centuries. Hopefully the outcome of this study will be to give some practical guidelines for how the church today can embody Jesus in a healthy way and model something counter cultural in the post Christendom society. When I floated the question of how we (church) could be free from this sort of un-Christlike 'empire spirit', you immediately (instinctively?) responded ".by going into exile".
It sounded good at the time, but I'm not exactly sure what I meant! I guess it is that until the church gives up power - owning property, having status, having parishes and seats in the Lords and a stake in the system - until we are thrown completely into dependence upon God and out of our comfort zones, we will always have power to exercise, so we will always think in empire-building ways.
Not for nothing did Jesus go on at great length about servanthood - the disciples could see fame, celebrity and influence coming over the horizon, and every one of them wanted to be first in the queue. "you should be pushing each other out of the way for the place at the back of the queue" Jesus told them (though obviously not in those words, as he was speaking Aramaic at the time). If the experience of holding and wielding power has corrupted the church, then the experience of being powerless is what we need in order for that corruption to be purged from our system.
Unfortunately, because the church is still also infected with post-enlightenment culture, there are many of us who still think that intellectual knowledge is the key to everything. Teach people the right truths, and their souls will follow. So all we need to free ourselves from an empire mentality is to get the right truths into our head. There is some truth to that, but not all of the truth. Jesus didn't just teach the disciples verbally, he put them through training experiences - go and preach, arrange a meal, heal people, hand out this bread etc., and then reflected with them on the experiences they had been through. They were apprentices as much as students.
(as an aside, which secular qualification is the closest parallel to being a disciple of Jesus? NVQ (vocational), PhD (intellectual), old-style O levels (memorise information and regurgitate for exam), or early years basline assesment (what skills and developmental milestones have you reached), or something else? I just wondered.....)