Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Kingdom that Loves comes face to face with Hostility

I have been studying the concept of kingdom love; kingdom love is neighborly love which Jesus introduced into first century Palestine by word and deed. Kingdom love is a love that will respond to the person that stands before or beside us. Kingdom love will recognize a neighbor as individually unique and it will take him or her out of the masses. It will deny all stereotypes. As citizens of the Kingdom of God, we are simply commanded to love each and every person we have human contact with “as ourselves”. Enemies, social rejects and those annoying personalities that endlessly grate us are our neighbors, and we must simply love them “as ourselves”. Everybody and anybody should become the fortunate victim of our kingdom love.

Then I explored a couple of ways of embracing some of society’s rejected and dejected souls with kingdom love: How do I love someone with a tainted reputation who could easily taint mine? A Gangster, A Tainted Reputation and A Kingdom That Loves!
And how do I demonstrate love to those that blend into this chaotic world seemingly wanting to wander as invisible ghosts? Frost Bitten, Social Anxiety and A Kingdom That Loves!

This brings me to a third exploration; I think Kingdom love calls us to embrace weakness, it calls us to denunciate power, and it calls us to actively pursue peace combined with creative non-retaliation. Jesus embraced this. Jesus lived this way. This is a message that the world does not want to hear! The kingdom of this world calls for power, revenge, one’s rights, the need to justify a wrong and the importance of becoming strong by dominating or exploiting the fragile, weak and insecure. Jesus chose to become weak through the incarnation, he chose to reject the power available to him and, in his poverty, he boldly proclaimed subversive phrases like “Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven” and “blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called children of God.” We embrace this, by embracing weakness. We embrace this by embracing love!

In the desert, Jesus was shown all the kingdoms of this world by the devil, but Jesus made it extremely clear that the pursuit of power, domination and violence is not the path he would follow. Instead he chose to follow the narrow path. A path, which allowed no amount of apathy, took him to become a victim of capital murder on an inhumane cross! This narrow path meant Jesus would follow the way of love, obedience, weakness, non-violence and suffering.

Peter innocently and righteously suggested to him that the way of the cross was foolishness, false and sought God to forbid it, yet Jesus rebuked Peter with some of the harshest words spoken to his disciples; Matthew 16:23, “get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but peoples.” He also rebuked the sons of Zebedee when they, and their mother, sought prominent seats in his kingdom. This inner circle of disciples failed to comprehend their master’s kingdom by simply pursuing worldly kingdoms of power and prestige.

When Jesus went to the garden of Gethsemane, he sweated drops of blood and prayed “Not my will, but yours be done!” Moments later they captured Jesus; he healed his oppressor’s severed ear, boldly proclaimed that those “who live by the sword will die by the sword” and, once again, had to rebuke Peter’s efforts to rely on a human revolution based on strength and power. When the authorities accused Jesus, he stood silently and did not enter into an endless display of argumentative yelling. He chose not to verbally justify and defend himself to his oppressors or call down from heaven twelve legions of angels to rescue him. Then they brutally crucified Jesus in a most inhumane way!

The gospels clearly picture Jesus decisively choosing the path of weakness, humility and non-retaliation. He resisted all temptation to pursue power, prestige and violence, even though the devil, the religious and political rulers and even his disciples tried in vain to convince him otherwise! Never did Jesus choose to reach out and grasp the immense power available to him by violently overturning his oppressors, silencing his critics and starting a hostile revolution. The masses expected Jesus to overthrow Rome through creating a violent spark, yet he started a radically different revolution through uplifting, healing and loving the poor, weak, maimed and sick. He chose to suffer a violent death while proclaiming radically subversive comments like “the first shall be last, and the last, first!” and “blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth!”

How does all this translate into my calling; living at JPUSA and working with the homeless at Cornerstone Community Outreach? I will not deny; this is a hard road to travel and Jesus is not easy to imitate, especially in this area. I am constantly tempted to pursue power. I am constantly tempted to justify, argue and fight back.

I have only been physically assaulted once at Cornerstone. Clark was pushing in front of a weaker person in our soup kitchen line. I confronted him, told him he couldn’t do that and needed to go to the back. This particular day, Clark had drunk too much and was also high on crack, so he started to argue and threaten me; he charged at me and ended up hitting me twice in my eye as I was calling 911. Clark ran out the door. This incident happened in front of about 250 hungry people. The food was flowing and the people continued to receive their meals. I had become known in the neighborhood, and a few locals with gang affiliations, offered to retaliate on my behalf. I declined. This happened ten years ago, and at this point, Clark was just another face in a sea of thick coats, duffel bags and skull caps. Even though he assaulted me, I had the power through subtle and passive-aggressive ways of revenge to make his homeless life more torturous than it already was. Looking back, I was relatively new to the position and I could have addressed his wrong doing in a less confrontational way. That day, I made a decision not to pursue revenge (via police, gangs, neighborhood thugs or my own ways), and to this day, many homeless recall that Saturday afternoon and speak of it as a witness of Christ to them!

Clark ended up living on the south side with his mother. He would often float into Uptown to hang with his little community of homeless and precariously housed buddies. Our opening encounter was obviously violently unpleasant and the following months resulted in a time of awkwardness. Time passed, forgiveness happened and we formed a bond. Clark would often stop me on the street to seek my help and advice. His mother was very old and I started to assist him to find his own subsidized place. His health was quickly deteriorating and sadly he could hardly breathe as we spoke. Clark passed away late 2009. Darrell and I went to his funeral and we had the honor to meet his mother and family; as we gave our condolences, they thanked us (CCO) for the support and love we’d given their brother and son. Clark had been touched by us and had raved to his family about our love.

Over the years, many people have tried to assassinate my character. I have also been the recipient of frequent angry verbal threats or assaults, guilt trips, manipulation and prolonged glares. Dan (who I wrote about in part 1) has taken me to the limit too often to remember; he has routinely managed to abuse me in all the above ways. It is tempting and easy to seek revenge by assassinating his character; I can do it by gossiping about him, laughing at his messed up existence, being passive aggressive or by favoring a more “favorable” client. Admittedly, I have fallen into these acts of revenge from time to time. Yet, I have tried to live out my calling as a member of God’s kingdom by actively pursuing peace, straining to live humbly by choosing weakness instead of domination (or power) and recognizing Dan as a beloved child of God struggling to contain his addictive personality. As a result, I start living out the love of non retaliation. If I couple this with actively praying for Dan, I have found this speaks of love more powerfully than words! In my often failed efforts, Dan and I have formed an awkward, but close, relationship; he trusts me, he respects me and he comes seeking my help in times of crisis. It is not easy and sometimes I want to hide from (or dodge) Dan, but it is a necessary and vital relationship based on kingdom love.

Rod is a loud aggressive man. He is in his late fifties and is known on the streets simply as Baldhead! He is a product of institutions. Rod served about 20 years in penitentiaries. Excessive time behind bars often results in making an individual have OCD qualities. Rod is a passionate “neat freak”. Rod swept, mopped, ironed and made sure he (with his perfectly shaved head) and his surroundings were spotless.

About 7 years ago, Rod came in for a night’s sleep in our overnight shelter where around 100 men slept next to each other on our thin blue mats. Slightly inebriated, he started cleaning and getting aggravated at those he considered unhygienic or lazy. He started yelling, accusing and threatening his fellow residents with a vulgar display of power. Trying and needing to protect the weak, I approached him and his aggression transferred to me. He was posing a challenge! Rod did not like white men, and especially ones with authority like the police, prison guards and at that moment; me! He considered us the oppressors. I found myself receiving a verbal assassination in front of 100 men; he egged me on and wanted to instigate a fight. My faith, my pride and my love was being put to the test! I had to act in a Christ like manner, I tried to remain confidently calm and thankfully he left without blows being thrown! The threats and insults had left me somewhat intimidated and thinking about how I had to wander cautiously in my own neighborhood.

That night, in the silence of my bed, as I cried to the Lord and the Holy Spirit clearly said to me “pray for your enemies. Rod is your enemy. Beat him with My love. Love him! Love him! Love him!” Because of the events of that night I had to restrict Rod from the shelter for a while and simply, pray.

It is hard to explain the passionate hate Rod had for white men. He is a man oppressed and his goal is to retaliate and tell you what’s on his mind. Time passed, he was frequently living rent-free in my head, and even though there was temptation to hate, I prayed for reconciliation and peace. I can be stubborn and I was extremely determined to overcome his hatred with love. Because of the severity of Rod’s challenge, I made it my mission to choose weakness and humility rather than power and revenge. He returned to the shelter and I had made an active decision not to retaliate. An awkward relationship began to form through gestures like a smile, a handshake and simply saying “hi”.

One day Rod beckons me over to him and whispers in my ear. He wants to talk and pray with me. His pride prevented him from doing it immediately, because he was in the midst of a crowd, but it did happen. I was stunned!

To this day, Rod and I have a very strong bond. We talk. We pray. We have mutual respect for each other. We have a relationship based on a love that decided not to retaliate but to pray for him! Jesus did the rest and the result was a miracle that I could hardly believe!

I have now worked with Chicago’s homeless for about 13 years and can testify of love’s beautiful reality. Time and time again, non violent and non retaliatory love has ended in powerful displays of reconciliation and kingdom love. Many men and women have displayed some very hostile and ugly moments. Exacting force or domination, coupled with yelling and threats, upon the struggling individual only humiliates and makes the person become even more hostile. Lowering our volume and tone can do so much to calm down a tense situation or future catastrophe. Jesus showed his love by not getting into an argument with his accusers and oppressors, rather they marveled at his silence. Being a peacemaker is not a wimpy response, but one that takes courage, wisdom, patience and love. Kingdom love has the humility and courage to say “God, you are in control, your will be done!”

I could name a host of men and women who have been very aggressive with us at CCO. Threatened and cussed at, we have tried to react with Christ like love. We haven’t always responded appropriately in the emotion of the moment, but we have apologized and forgiveness and reconciliation happens. Deep relationships have developed with those the world would have us toss into the trash pile or jail. Because of a willingness to give people multifold chances, kingdom love has produced and will continue to produce fruit. Physically, the sick are getting medical care they desperately need. Mentally ill folk are seeking appropriate help. Drug and alcohol abusers come seeking treatment. Many have found and are finding housing and jobs through different collaborations and, spiritually, men and women taste the love and compassion of Christ.

These men are just a few of the many examples of hostility and anger that continually rises every year. Being homeless makes a person anxious and angry; at themselves, society, their families, friends and God. It is not a person’s desire to erupt in rage upon the staff or other clients; they are simply trying to survive. They often repent and seek to continue wandering down their difficult path. Many of our homeless population are examples of beautiful Christ-like love, peacemaking, forgiveness and non retaliation. They have put me to shame, as I have often seen clients having a very hostile exchange (physically and verbally) because of things like adultery, robbery and cheating. To my surprise, they somehow cast away the anger, forgive the deeds and become friends. We can learn so much from observing homeless communities!

Here's a Link to an amazing story of forgiveness: Freed From Animosity.

Think of the people in your life! Who is responsible? Who is called to love them? Not the government, that’s for sure! I live in the richest country in the world, yet our shelter houses hundreds of homeless people! The government and bureaucracy love and worship the kingdoms of mammon, violence and power! We negate those empires by not giving them any allegiance and refusing to bow down before them. Instead, we are called to bow before Jesus, we do this by simply loving our neighbor (the person beside, before or behind us), loving our enemies, loving those who insult us and loving the “least of these!” The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of love! It’s our duty and the choice we must make! To love!

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