One of the most common questions we get about the Regnare Project is, what does the word “Regnare” mean?
Regnare is a latin verb that means “to reign”. I’m not an expert in contemporary latin pronunciation, but when I say it out loud, it sounds like “reh-NAR-ay”. The old latin motto cui servire est regnare translates as “to serve is to reign”. It’s the word used when speaking of the authority a king exercises over his people and his land. It comes from the same root word as “regnum”, kingdom.
You’ll see a repeated refrain among these writings, that the Regnare Project is about learning to live the good life. But before we can get started, we have to ask: who knows best how to live the good life, or what the good life even is? Who’s in charge here?
We live in an age where the central authority on earth is the inner person that we think of as living inside our heads. This “me” of thoughts, wants, and accumulated experiences is the center of the universe. I judge everything by what I think is true, and, when pressed for what I mean by true, I really mean what seems intuitively right to me. You can hear this in our language: “Well, that’s just not true for me…” We like the idea of objectivity and science when it aligns with our intuitive sense of what’s right, and everything else we toss out as biased or misinformed.
Everyone does this: young and old, rich and poor, men and women, conservative and liberal, educated and uneducated, religious and irreligious. And it’s no wonder we got here—after centuries of mining the Enlightenment’s values of objectivity and reason, we’ve found that even the so-called “objective truths” are ridden with bias, contradiction, and power plays. So most of us do our thinking and choosing in little self-defined communities of people with whom we agree and we try to make the best of things. We become the supreme authority over our lives, the kings and queens of our own little kingdoms.
One problem with this arrangement is that our little kingdoms rub up against the borders of other kingdoms. Even our closest friends and loved ones disagree with us, sometimes over very important things. Conflict arises. In such a case, whose authority triumphs? The strongest? The most persuasive? The loudest? The most stubborn?
Worse still, we find that even within the borders of what is supposed to be our own kingdom, our supreme will is not done very well. If you doubt this is the case, I suggest you try a little experiment. Eat white rice (and only white rice) for a week. There is plenty enough nutrition in there to sustain you for a week; and, as an added bonus, it will probably help you lose weight as well as save you a lot of money. Pretty simple, right? Until four days into the experiment, when you find yourself walking past a donut display or a griddle of frying bacon. How well do you think your mind and body will obey you then?
So what can we do? is the good life a myth? Is it merely a construct of our own making, some fanciful, elusive idea we have about how we might like to live? Or are we doomed to live in a meat-grinder of competing forces, fighting for little bits of satisfaction whenever we have the chance?
The Christian tradition has something to say about authority and about the good life. Jesus’s first public proclamation was “finally, the beautiful life you’ve all been promised by God is now open to all. Leave your old way of life behind—trust me, this is very good news.” (Mark 1:15) That may not be quite the way your translation reads, but it’s a fair (if very loose!) paraphrase of what the original hearers would have understood.
The Kingdom of God
Those that heard Jesus’ message (his “gospel”, or good news) knew what he meant by the phrase “kingdom of God”. It was the very good life they had been promised for centuries. A parade of prophets had spoken volumes about what this good life was going to be like. The words of these prophets were written down, told and re-told constantly among the community of the Jews, until all of them had a vivid picture of what was coming.
This good life they had been promised by God was a kingdom (or reign), a sphere of authority in which God’s will was done. And the reason that this was good news to them is the same reason it’s good news for us: because God was in charge. All the good he intended would finally come to pass, unhindered by competing forces, unhindered by partisan bickering, unhindered by the rich and powerful seizing what they could control for their own benefit and leaving the rest to scrape and suffer. God would be the final authority, and what he wanted done—rich blessings for the least and the greatest—would finally get done.
Authority is only as good as the wisdom and goodness of the one wielding it. And they knew from their Scriptures that God was very wise and very good. And even if some of them might have wondered about the love of God after living under the strict, rule-keeping religious leaders of their day, when Jesus showed up, people flocked to him because it was obvious that this good life was flowing out from him like a spring of fresh water bubbling up in the middle of a parched desert. They couldn’t get enough of him, following him everywhere, crowding him, hanging on every word he said. They could see with their own eyes that his proclamation was true and real—that the good life had come upon them.
Kingdoms, Little and Big
It is said that people were amazed at Jesus’ words and actions, because (unlike the religious teachers they were used to) Jesus seemed to have real authority. When he said something, it had the unmistakable ring of truth to it. And a kind of power was present with him that made the promises of the reign of God real: the sick, the crippled and diseased, the demon-possessed, the poor, and the outcast all tasted the overflowing goodness of God in a way that put the question of authority to rest. Jesus was in charge.
But Jesus did not leave people with a mere taste of the good life. He invited people to follow him, to apprentice themselves to him and learn from him how to receive and enter this reign of God, to go to the source of the good life—God himself, and to live from that never-ending wellspring forever after.
He describes this apprenticeship in strikingly contrasting terms. In one place, he says “if anyone would follow me, he must deny himself, take up his instrument of humiliation, failure, and death (cross), and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) And in another, he says “come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt 11:28)
The is the paradox of apprenticeship to Jesus. Sometimes it feels like death, sometimes it feels like laying down heavy, pointless burdens and finding perfect peace and rest. It has everything to do with how closely we want to retain authority over our own lives. When we cling tightly to control, insisting on our own way and our own satisfaction, then giving it up feels like death. But when we come to the end of ourselves, realizing that our own way leads only to hunger, deprivation, heartache, and pain, then our own way feels like a burden. Laying it down becomes a joy.
The Authority of Resurrection Life
Coming to this point is very important. At this place of self-denial that feels a little like death, we find something new—a life that doesn’t come from us, a life that is mysterious and elusive, vibrant and unquenchable. We find that the good life is waiting for us at the point of surrender, where we lay down our own crowns and hand over authority of our kingdoms over to the one true king.
And most strangely of all, this king picks up our crown, shines it up a bit, and hands it back to us. Jesus says to those who follow him, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” (John 20:21).
Jesus does not possess us after our baptism like some evil spirit. We don’t become his puppets, mere embodied extensions of his will, blindly and thoughtlessly doing what God wants done. This is the kind of obedience our Adversary wants. Instead, God wants to go with us on a journey, to uncover and to reveal, to teach and to amaze, opening up the beauty and wonder of the good life to us a little at a time as we yield up to him our own authority and learn to live and love like he does. Our reigns that we once laid down are entrusted to us again, now empowered by the life-giving Spirit of God and driven by new passion and wisdom. We find ourselves pulled into the reign of God, living a new kind of life that is mysterious and elusive, vibrant and unquenchable, right in the middle of what we once thought was an ordinary life.
We are given authority and freedom to exercise our will for good in the world. As we yield, moment by moment to Jesus and what he is teaching us about the good life, about how to love and serve, about how to order our hearts and lives for own good and for the good of others, we see the kingdom of God spring up in all kinds of unlikely places. We become living witnesses, a sign and foretaste of that good life of the kingdom, available to everyone who wants it. And behold, the world is changed.
This is the goal of salvation. This is a sneak preview of what God has in store for all of us when the new heavens and new earth are at last revealed. This is the good life that can be lived now—a life that does not end, but that has an endless horizon of new tomorrows extending into a beautiful eternity.
Learning to Reign Within the Kingdom of God
This is by far the hardest part of following Jesus. That he entrusts us with so much (Matthew 16:19), that he has given us authority to speak in his name, to mediate his teachings and his good work in the world—it can be a bit frightening. But we are not left alone to struggle with such a responsibility without help. He is among us today, teaching and giving power where it is needed (Matthew 28:18-20), closer to each of us than the air we breathe. And we have one another, a fellowship of pilgrims, learning together how to live the good life that is spilling over from God into the world.
This is what the Regnare Project is about—learning to “reign” with Jesus for the good of the world. Ready to take a step in that direction? Start small.