Manuscript In the opening of his letter to the Christians at Colossae, the apostle Paul pens a subversive poem that would have grabbed the attention of his listeners and aroused a variety of strong emotions (1:15-23). He was intent on promoting the supremacy of Christ. He did this by showing that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, and the head of his body, the church.

The authors of recent commentary on Colossians (Colossians Remixed by Keesmaat & Walsh) have paraphrased this poem into a targum – something that conveys the kind of message in our culture that would be comparable to what the original listeners might have heard in their context. Here it is (with a few Australianisms added in by my wife, Nicole):

β€œHe is the source of a liberated imagination, a subversion of the empire because it all starts with Him, and it all ends with Him. 

Everything, All things.

Whatever you can imagine.

Visible or invisible.

Mountains or atoms.

Outer space, urban space and cyber space.

Where it be the Australian Government and Prime Minister, Vegemite, Microsoft, Telstra or McDonalds.

Whether it be institutionalized power structures of the state, the educational system or the market.

All things have been created in Him and through Him.

He is their source, their purpose, their goal.

Even in their rebellion, even in their idolatry.

He is their sovereign one. 

Their power and authority is derived at best, parasitic at worst.

In the face of the empire.

In the face of presumptuous claims of sovereignty.

In the face of imperial and idolatrous forces in our lives.

Christ is before all things.

He is sovereign in life.

Not the pimped dreams of the global market.

Not the idolatrous forces of nationalism or even religion.

Not the insatiable desires of a consumer culture.

In the face of a disconnected world.

Where home is a domain in cyberspace.

Where neighborhood is a chat room.

Where public space is a shopping mall.

Where information technology promises a tuned-in, reconnected world.

All things hold together in Christ.

The creation is a deeply personal cosmos.

All cohering and interconnected in Jesus.” 

9 thoughts on “A Subversive Poem

  1. 1st. I had to look up who or what a Targum was. Learn something new everyday.
    2nd. All you have to do now is paraphrase the rest of the bible for me and I will be on easy street! I ask too much???

  2. Recently I attended The Big Day out, a function that all state principals and assistant principals go to at jeffs shed. During the guest speakers presentions he many thousand attendees were invited to comment and ask questions via twitter, at the conclusion selected questions were read out by one of the organisers and addressed by the panel. This got me thinking… Why don’t we try this at CL? Currently we follow the archaic oral tradition which is in my opinion not the way anyone learns in real life or really even at school? Also a twitter on our bible readings would be a great way to engage ppl on discussing whAt we are reading? How bout it?

  3. Hi Peter. Good to hear from you! Yes, heard of numbers of groups making use of Twitter and SMS for stuff life this. Personally, I’m keeping my head above water keeping up with daily email, Facebook and my BLOG, so haven’t launched into Twitter-world yet πŸ™‚
    I love the interactive format. We’re doing this more in smaller groups now – such as staff meetings and we’ll be having an extended discussion time at our next leader’s summit.
    Weekends with sometimes 1000+ people in a room is more difficult. I take courage from the fact that Jesus used the oral tradition and I believe it can still work today (we just need to learn more from him about effective communication, including story telling, etc) … in conjunction with other forums such as Life Groups and personal mentoring, etc.

  4. Hi mark thanx for the response. I too struggle keeping up but twitter is create cos it’s all 128 characters or less. Btw Have u Eva noticed that most of what Jesus did was to get ppl to think, ponder and seek answers for themselves. He was always posing difficult questions, talking in riddles and telling hard to fathom stories which we conveniently call parables. We do the opposite, nice sermon with 5 easy to understand main points. Why did he do that? So ppl would discuss and talk about and explore what he said. I bet most churchgoers if questioned half an hour after church would have difficult remembering what was said. Worse still if asked how had it or would it change their lives would have quite some difficulty answering. Now Jesus did address large crowds, don’t have a problem with that, but it was hardly the mainstay of his work was it? Didn’t he really do most of his best work in over ways?

  5. Here r some more thoughts. Just because jesus did something doesn’t mean we should automatically do it. Jesus and the apostles preached in the streets and countryside because that’s the way news was spread also in the synagogue. Today usually mad ppl shout in the streets ( I know I’ve seen them). If we follow you logic above then part of your ministry could be exactly this. What if Jesus was alive today. What form of communication would he use to spread his message. How would he do his ministry in a way that was culturally relevant??? Sorry to say it but I doubt he would be doing an awful lot of pulpit preaching – not that it is wrong to do so. Sometimes I wonder if he would go into churches very often at all.

  6. Hi Peter. Yes, I love the way Jesus asked questions. I did this in last weekend’s message, asking 3 questions on a text from Colossians and encouraging people to think about them, while giving a few thoughts of my own. I don’t see a ‘sermon’ as the last word on any matter but hopefully as a conversation starter for people. That’s why we put together Life Group discussion questions, to encourage people to think for themselves and apply Gods Word to their lives.
    Yes, Jesus did far more than speak to crowds. He spent time training leaders and having one on one conversations. In the same way, being in church ministry today is so much more than a weekend meeting. There are leaders to train, people to encourage and unchurched people to interact with.
    Of course, Jesus did also work within the structures and traditions of this time – he had a custom of attending the synagogue each week, a pretty amazing thing in itself when he was the Word himself and could of excused himself from not needing to go! In fact, the early church patterned itself on the Jewish synagogues in many ways.
    Hey it would be great to do stuff more outdoors today like Wesley and Whitefield did, but laws restrict gatherings like that in public places in places like Australia, You cant even hand out a tract in a shopping centre!
    Anyway, I think Jesus would use a whole variety of ways to communicate today, including where believers gather together. Maybe even Twitter πŸ™‚

  7. Have you considered using an audience response system – this would be a great way to interact and see what people think about a topic… and then respond accordingly. see link as follows.
    Do you ever survey the church population to see what issues, topics areas are most needed to be addressed?

  8. Yes you did ask questions… but this could be expanded on.
    Ask one question at a time. GIve more time for thought.
    Get people to discuss their idea/response with the person next to them and vice versa. OR ask them to write a response down on a piece of paper – then share, swap papers and go share with someone else swap and so on… This would mean that people would have to talk to each other, would be exploring different ideas from several people.
    You could even ask for several people to bring up and read out any particularly amazing or funny responses- because they have been swapped around it would be fairly anonymous so ppl would necessarily get embarrassed.
    Depending on the question you could get people to stand up and down in response to some obvious answers to gauge what people think or believe.
    Teaching is a two way process, the best teachers adapt to the needs of their class (audience) – finding out and getting people to stand up and respond would mean that you could ‘have a joke’ with each group – or have a prepared response for each group that you could spend a few minutes on.
    Another good one is to get people to rate something out of 10. I,e, how helpful was this sermon to you?… 1 being lousy – 10 amazing, and then get them to stand as you count through (or raise hands, or hold up number of fingers if small audience).
    See not everyone is in a lifegroup, it is vitally important that ppl connect with the ppl next to them and that they explore the content of the message in a far more deeper way. This (in my opinion) rarely happens unless people have to interact with the content with other people…. its called social constructivism. Knowledge is not something you pour into a an empty vessel, it is something that is constructed by the learner. When you and others preach it is really a scatter gun approach. You have little idea who is listening, who it is meaningful to or even if they ‘get’ the message you are preaching. Because knowledge is constructed based on prior learning, worldview, paradigms… people can be hearing a totally different message to the one you are preaching, and they will never know this until they start to have a conversation with the people around them OR you poll people with carefully constructed questions designed to bring out misconceptions or to show if people are understanding your message in a way that you are not intending.

  9. Thanks for your suggestions, Peter.
    Yes, we have done a number of surveys with our church. We participate in the National Church Life Survey, which is an extensive survey of Australian churches that occurs every 4 years. The next one is in 2011. We have also done some spot surveys with various groups over the year, including leaders, with all sorts of questions such as “I wish someone would preach about …” (got enough from that to last until Jesus returns!).
    At our next leader’s meeting we’ll be having discussion groups to talk about our future as a church and we’re considering an online survey for our partners at the moment. It’s important to be listening all the time, that’s for sure.

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