Tag Archives: Kingdom of God

Palm Fronds and Tomahawks

Donald Trump has given every preacher a gift for Palm Sunday.  To prove he is in charge. he sends Tomahawk missiles on Friday and a Carrier Strike Force on Sunday. Meanwhile,  around the world, churches show a different projection of power. In many parishes a Donkey will have led a Palm Sunday procession through the neighbourhood streets. Power is displayed with a shout of “Hosanna!” and the waving of palm leaves.

Jesus the King enters Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. No gleaming escort or royal troops. No brass bands. No flags. No symbols of personal or national power. No Eagles with arrows in their talons.  No slogans of Peace Through Strength.  Just a dusty road, a borrowed donkey and peasants waving flora. He’s not very kingly with his talk of turning your cheek to be struck over and over and the idea that your neighbour’s life is as important as yours. God’s idea of the good life is very different from what we conjure for ourselves and set as the template for all.

Jesus, the King on a donkey, exhorts us to see the futile nature of sabre rattling and power projection. He makes us conscious that conventional munitions kill Trump’s “beautiful babies” just as tragically as chemical weapons.  He leads us to see the show of force is not really about beautiful babies but rather policy and alliances and national prestige. People don’t really come into it.

Jesus, the King on a donkey, only has love of God and love of neighbour to offer. The  Church has spun that into complicated theories of just war and Christendom where the state is God’s agent of order, justice and purpose. In reality those things are confessions of our failure to ride the donkey.  Just like the guy who asks, “Who is my neighbour”, we spark a parable about good Samaritans and the idea that citizens of the kingdom do not have enemies but only possible future friends.

Jesus sits in paradox to the kingdoms of this world and requires us to ask what is so special about our kingdom that it needs protecting with missiles and warships and sabre rattling rhetoric.

Donald Trump’s election (and the Brexit vote here for that matter) wasn’t because of racists, economic left behinds or alt right fanatics; though they are all factors.

What brought him to power were three national myths:

  1. Scarcity: There is only a limited amount of rights and opportunity and wealth to go around. If everyone has the same rights and access to opportunity it somehow takes away from me.
  1. Scapegoating: who are the people doing this to me? Corporations, blacks, women, illegals, gays. “We’ve been pretty tolerant of what they’ve wanted so far and now they want to take more. Well, the line is drawn here.” I genuinely believe people without a consciously racist or sexist bone in their bodies bought into this because it wasn’t about isms; it was about survival in a time of scarcity.
  1. Infinity is possible: We can consume in unlimited volumes and it will be keep coming. Yes, that seems to contradict myth one but it works on the following logic: there is infinity but my access to it is being blocked by all these other people who keep asking to have what I have in the same amount. There is infinity for me as long as there isn’t for others. White voters voted in their droves to restore their access to infinity because the scarcity was caused by people who they felt shouldn’t be in a position to cause it in the first place.

Jesus, the King on a donkey, didn’t believe these myths and neither did his mother. When she found out she was carrying him in her womb she sang the Magnificat which contains these phrases:

 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.   Luke 1

The Gospel of Matthew tells about the adult Jesus sitting on a hill with a bunch of others while telling them  how his kingship would turn the world upside down. The people who mattered were the meek, the mourning, the peaceful, the pure, the persecuted and those who wanted to be righteous. Jesus tells them if power is the starting point then we’re looking in the wrong place. If you want a kingdom guaranteed to create poverty, conflict and joylessness then follow the one with the proper parade and honour guard.

Jesus, the King on the Donkey, is a ridiculous figure in a ridiculous procession declaring a ridiculous Kingdom of love and a sacrifice. His power doesn’t teach the world a lesson, but instead saves it. His parade does not lead to higher poll ratings but rather to a cross.  This is a procession about our heart’s desire: palm fronds or tomahawks.  You can’t have both.





Lincoln and the Kingdom of God

Sometimes it is good to sit down and learn something. The DVD of Lincoln has sat on our shelf for over a year and I decided to watch it on a cloudy uninviting morning.  It really is a good film, though at times it feels like the great film you hoped they would show you in history class but never did.

What struck me most were the scenes of Lincoln debating with his cabinet or close allies. They were debates which were elegant, articulate and full of passion. The reason for this was the scope of the subject matter. How could this great experiment in democracy called the United States be kept from being derailed by slavery and the conclusion of a civil war.  Keeping it alive and dynamic was the important aim. Once the nation settled into the purpose of just carrying on was the day the nation began to die.

Unfortunately, regardless of which side of the Atlantic you live on today, you can see the signs of what happens when you settle for just existing and holding on to what you’ve got.  In the West, we have stopped being an experiment in human freedom and progress and instead become an experiment in serving prosperity.

In this new experiment of prosperity for its own sake, the idea that prosperity only benefits everyone when everyone has a stake, both as contributor and recipient, has died. When that crucial element is ignored leaders are transformed into managers of a system that cannot be changed or challenged. All you have to do is apply rules and dig in your heels and hope for the best. Leading an experiment meant to be for the general human good requires wit, imagination, resolve, negotiation and partnership. It requires a bigger vision than hoping that enriching the rich will enrich us all.

In this country the general election has truly started even though we don’t vote until May. We will be offered a ballot paper, for the most part, full of managers who seek only to serve prosperity as a good unto itself.  And when one of those parties have the votes to form a government they will be looking for the scapegoats for our current financial situation.

It won’t be bankers or theorists who told us credit could buy us happiness. It will be the poor, the working poor, disabled people, immigrants, public sector workers and anyone else who can be construed as takers of prosperity. In short, there will be people branded as losers who are taking prosperity from the winners. And they will bear the brunt of the coming cuts of public spending.

We already see this in profitable companies when their profit isn’t high enough for their shareholders. Walk into any major supermarket and ask why there are more self service checkouts than human staffed tills. It’s not to make shopping more convenient. It is because a group of machines can be looked after by one paid human being. Machines don’t need time off or pensions or wages or national insurance paid.

The state is trying to learn the same lesson in the name of prosperity.

After the election in May the national discussion led by our manager-politicians will not be about how we live together but rather about how we all live with money. It won’t be about living within our national means for the good of all but rather how we live within our national means for the “winners”.

The bible has many grand visions of the future. You might even argue they are proposed experiments in what the Kingdom of God might look like. They are never for the winners nor exclusively for the poor. They are exclusively for all those who want to be a part of God’s great experiment of dwelling with his creation, on his terms. Terms we see so unclearly through the cracked and dirty glass of humanity in the process of being restored.

There is one picture I love from the Old Testament. It speaks of peace, security, employment and a place one can call one’s own. It speaks of a share in God’s Kingdom which does not favour the winners but rather those who desire a great future and existence for humankind.

He will judge between many peoples
and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
Everyone will sit under their own vine
and under their own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
for the Lord Almighty has spoken.
All the nations may walk
in the name of their gods,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord
our God for ever and ever.

Micah 4:3-5

There is no place for managers in the Kingdom of God. The only place is for those who are not afraid to walk into the unknown future of a creation that nourishes and benefits all rather than the few.