McKinley, Rick. This Beautiful Mess: Practicing the Presence of the Kingdom of God. Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2006.
This book was written for those whose experience in the orderly, predictable, and antiseptic Western church does not match what they experience in real life. The author acknowledges a conflict between religiosity and real life, and he argues that the conflict exists because the church in does not reflect the truth of the Kingdom of God. The primary message of his book is to invite us to experience the kingdom in our everyday lives. To do so, the author argues, we must acknowledge and live like we have a King, who is the Creator God. We must stop defining spirituality in terms of achievement and move toward a state of being—of being within the kingdom. Once we have done this, we can imagine what living in the Kingdom could look like in our everyday life, and he spends the last half of the book giving us examples of that from his own experiences.
Because the author is arguing that we need to go from an old way of thinking about the Kingdom to a new one, he gives us several steps to take. First, he encourages readers to discover the kingdom of God. He doesn’t want us to reduce the gospel of the kingdom to make it equivalent with the church; he doesn’t want us to spiritualize the kingdom by claiming that it’s already here in all its fullness now; and he doesn’t want us to postpone the gospel by believing that it will not be here until Jesus comes so we don’t have to find a way to live within it now. With a story of being seated next to a guy on a plane who was the king of a small nation, he invites us to consider that to experience God’s kingdom we have to stop trying to control God. He invites us to see the beauty of the Kingdom as it breaks through into the mess of this world.
Second, he argues that we need to re-envision the Kingdom. The author argues that we need to see this Kingdom as God’s Kingdom rather than ours. We need to see it not as a ladder of achievements but a garden that is growing: we can water and weed, but we really are just watching the kingdom grow through God’s efforts. We also need to see the Kingdom as an often-invisible dimension that permeates our world like yeast permeates bread. Finally, he cautions that our ability to see the Kingdom is sometimes hindered by the brokenness of the world. Though the Kingdom of God is made up of all good things, of life and healing and joy and contentment, the realities of this world are full of sickness, death, and suffering. He argues that the Kingdom is still there in the places of darkness when the people of God bring it there in simple ways, mostly by relationally reaching out to those around them.
Third, the author argues that the church can build “signposts” for the world that demonstrate the presence of the Kingdom through our actions of love and care for those around us. He then explores examples what building these signposts looks like in different areas of life. First, the author challenges how we view children and argues that we should spend time with children and learn from them about how they see the world. Second, he argues that the church is called to go into places where we aren’t right now, particularly to the marginalized, and live life alongside them, seeking to meet their needs. Third, he argues that we should treat money the way God does, as a valuable tool for the kingdom rather than as something to make our own lives better. Finally, he examines suffering and argues that we should both walk with people in suffering and choose to suffer for them. The author believes that this suffering must come from a place of relationship with those who are already suffering.
The author concludes with a message of hope. He points ahead to the future, to the parts of the Kingdom will come but that are not yet evident. He argues that we should be encouraged to live according to Kingdom values now, even to the point that we may suffer for them, because we know what the Kingdom will look like when it is finally realized.
Overall, this book is more devotional than theological. The author introduces many topics about the Kingdom, but instead of delving into them in an abstract way, he illustrates the topics with a story. For example, when he talks about how to bring a Kingdom perspective into how we deal with money, he tells the story of how he received a $100 bill from Shane Claiborne with the word “love” written on it. Shane had taken $20,000 to Wall Street in New York City and dumped it on the ground, and then he sent $100 bills to several pastors and community leaders. The author explained how he viewed that $100 bill differently from all the other money in his wallet because of where it came from. He then argued that we should view our money as something that has the stamp of Christ on it (rather than a picture of George Washington) and how, as such, it is meant to be used as a resource for the Kingdom.
As a devotional work, I thought there were several positive aspects. The cry of the Kingdom, that God’s will be done and his Kingdom come on earth, is evident here. The stories the author told made mysterious and abstract concepts tangible. However, because it is not a theological treatise, the author left many terms undefined and many questions unanswered. So the book’s very tangibility may have also led to a lack of concreteness. This lack of concreteness, in turn, might tend to lead to an oversimplification of ideas around the Kingdom and a possibility of miscommunication if the reader is from a different background or set of life experiences than the author is.