Kingdom Love: Confronting the Empire!

Almost 22 years ago I flew into Chicago and landed in Uptown. It was winter, and I remember that on most nights the hallway into my house was occupied by people huddled under piles of blankets trying to get a little sleep on the cold hard floor. I spent quite a few hours chatting with and getting to know these neighbors, realizing how it was only a couple degrees warmer than outside, but a blessed escape from the harsh Chicago wind. Some of these men and women I still have the pleasure of knowing today!

It was while my fingers, nose, and toes were freezing in this cold hallway I found myself being challenged in new ways. Seeing and feeling a reality is very different from reading or knowing about it! My thought process and empathy increased, and even more so when I started working in CCO soon after. 

I was getting to know my neighbors, and it caused me to notice the injustice and ask many questions. Why should they not have a warm bed to climb into, like I do? Even though they're doing nothing violent, why are they rotating in and out of jail? What's with all the judgemental taunting I see and hear from people who have the luxury of warmth in their own homes? With all this gross inequality and blatant prejudice in my face, how is Jesus asking me to respond? 

I've been meditating on and writing a series called "It's Political!", where I've been contemplating how things that shouldn't be political have been made political by those with power and privilege - I have been focussing especially on where I live and work: Uptown, Chicago. I've been irritated (even angry) because I see how people in power constantly think it's their right or responsibility to arrogantly invade other people’s space, create exclusive policies, bully the weak, criminalize the vulnerable, and make life increasingly harder for those already marginalized. 

There should never be roadblocks or opposition to feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, visiting prisoners, clothing the naked, giving the thirsty a drink or assisting the sick, but there is! 

There always is! 

Sadly, whether we like it or not, we live in *their* world, where the "powers-that-be" want us to be obedient, fall into line, and conform to their ways! It doesn't matter how oppressive, uncaring, or negligent they are, those in charge will do whatever it takes to uphold the empire they're building. It doesn't matter about all suffering and consequences it causes, to those in power, the empire must be maintained

This should cause us to grieve! 

This should cause us to rage!
This should cause us to confront!
This should cause us to action!
This should cause us to pray!

The empire seeks to exclude, banish, lock up and punish through their laws, committees, exclusive clubs and the like. The empire uses tools such as Mass Incarceration, gentrification, the War on Drugs, intentional laws and the blatantly biased enforcement of those laws to create divisiveness and segregation. The empire’s main purpose is to sustain itself and keep control at the expense and suffering of others. To them, we are nothing but collateral damage, disposal heroes, and dangerous dissenters. 

We live in a world of stark contrasts; the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, the powerful are gaining more power, while the weak are being weakened. Women, people of color, dissenters and those stricken with poverty are seen as plagues and threats to the empire! They invent ways, use tools, and sprout forth effective propaganda to silence and scatter anyone they've deemed as nuisances. 

I've tried to examine how this happens in Uptown. Think about all the changes that have happened due to the deadly combination of power, privilege, and money - while claiming they're doing it all in the name of law, order and for your and my common good...

  • There's the constant racist calling of law enforcement by "positive loiterers" on people they deem unworthy and unsightly. They stand in huddled little groups armed with cell phones, ready to send people to jail and then advocate they stay inside for longer. (click on this link for more insight: "The Punishments Do Not Fit the Crimes!")
  • There's the building up of high-priced condos while casting out what's cheap or affordable. Poor people are just collateral damage. This purposeful, intentional, and strategic planning causes evictions, relocations, homelessness, and a whole lot of fear and anxiety. (see: "Building Up and Casting Out!")
  • My questions to those so-called progressives who love to sprout forth trendy catch-phrases: How can you promote "harm-reduction" and "housing first" when evidence seems to show that your goal is to lock up the very people who could benefit from such help, and how does gentrification fit into that plan? (see: "Uptown Gentrification and Housing Discrimination.")
  • There was the blatant eviction of Uptown Tent City so the wealthy didn't have to see over 30 people living under a bridge as they walked to the lake. Can you believe, that there were actual complaints from people worried that their precious dogs would get contaminated by those who didn't have homes? (see: "How to Traumatize an Already Traumatized People.")
  • There is always concerted efforts to close down social service agencies (like CCO) because we're seen to "attract" and bring people into the neighborhood who they think shouldn’t be here and will bring down their property values. (see: "Dejected, BUT Not Forgotten!")
  • There was the mysterious vanishing of bus-stop benches and basketball rims because they figure such inanimate objects incite and promote violence, loitering, and gang-banging. (see: "Deemed Unworthy and Unsightly!")
All these actions (plus many more) serve one purpose; to change the landscape by making the poor uncomfortable and vanish, while bringing in those deemed worthy and profitable! Prisons, block clubs, gentrification, and exclusive committees are just some of the great tools and weapons of the empire!

This needs to change! 

Empires need to be confronted, not by another violent empire, as that will only lead to more evictions, bullying, exploitation, dominance, suppression, and more violence. History has shown that empires need to be confronted and challenged by something entirely different. There is power in “ground-on-up” movements. There is power when people rally and unite together for the underdogs. There is power when the community comes together, networks together, for those without a voice.

For the sake of humanity, for the sake of our freedom, for the sake of the “least of these”, we need to confront, challenge, and resist this empire. We can do this through direct action. We can do this through concerted effort. We can do this by living compassionate inclusive lifestyles. Our subversive actions, our words, our communities, our organizing, our unity, our belief in something far bigger than ourselves can bring about radical change, in ourselves and in our neighborhoods.

Let's look at Jesus. He lived his brief life in the time of an oppressive empire that sought to silence him, control him, and make him conform to their ways. He brought his Loving Kingdom into their domain; where life, freedom, peace, hope, and healing was freely given to the weakest and most vulnerable members of society. People flocked to him, and the establishment got scared. His loving Kingdom switched the empire's order! His loving Kingdom flipped the script! His loving Kingdom gave hope to those deemed hopeless! Political gangsters, religious thugs, complicit enforcers, and oligarchical bullies tried their hardest to stop his movement. They didn't want their money, power, and privilege upended, and because Jesus refused to submit to their ways, they made a public spectacle of him and eventually executed him.

“I’m just doing my job” was used to justify Laquan McDonald getting shot 16 times, Joe being evicted, Clarence finding himself cuffed in the back of another squad car for holding a can of beer, the eviction, and scattering of Uptown Tent City residents, the incarceration of Louie, the tearing down of affordable housing, the murder of Tamir Rice, and the brutal execution of Jesus! When we read how an oppressive empire took out Jesus and his disciples, why do we think it won’t also happen to people around us today? 

Just like Jesus, if we are fighting for the dispossessed and marginalized, if we are bringing the hope of the gospel into our neighborhoods, and if we are living out Kingdom Love to those who've been shunned and neglected, we will face opposition and harassment from our own political gangsters, religious thugs, complicit enforcers, and oligarchical bullies. There's absolutely no doubt about it; nothing's new under the sun, only the names and methods change!  

Our goal, if we follow Jesus, is to live in Kingdom Love and not allow the empires of this world to consume us. Violence and hatred are not traits of God's Kingdom. We are called to a different way of living; one that elevates the poor, one that sets prisoners free, one that is merciful to those that need mercy, one that embraces the foreigner, one that accepts those experiencing homelessness, and one that forgives those who have pasts they're trying to forget!

I have hope in this Kingdom because Jesus didn't end in the grave! They thought they had defeated him, but the fact he walked out of that tomb gives us hope. In his resurrection, he nullified any power empires have. Their power is a fleeting illusion. It is temporary. It is but vapor and mist. Though they may relentlessly do evil, bully the vulnerable and continually hurt us, we as followers of Jesus can live in his resurrection power by bringing his peace and Kingdom Love to those around us. His resurrection ensured that his Kingdom is eternal and the "first shall be last, and the last, first!"

Just before Jesus was unjustly executed by the vicious and vindictive combination of political gangsters (Herod etc), religious thugs (Pharisees), complicit enforcers (the soldiers), and oligarchical bullies (the wealthier public who didn't want the status quo upended), he told his stressed-out disciples these comforting words of reality, words we can cling onto today; "I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”

He has conquered the world! Through his death and resurrection. Through weakness! Through love! He gives us hope! He gives us courage! He gives us peace! He gives us his power to walk in Kingdom Love and uplift others who’ve been beaten down by the empire. He gives us peace and strength to rise up when we've been whipped by the empire! When we rely on His strength, we can bring hope into the hopelessness. 

It’s been a couple decades since I crouched in that frigidly cold hallway and chatted to Joe. It’s also been a couple decades since I first met Johnny riding his bike after sleeping his nights in alleyways and dumpsters. It’s been a little under 20 years since I first met a young man named Adam, who was incredibly hostile, causing chaos and riding the trains at night. It’s been about 17 years since I first met Jay, who was sleeping in our men’s shelter. It’s been about 15 years since I first met Clayton, who was very sick, desperately needed an operation, and was staying at CCO.

I still know all these 5 men! Together, they have combined for well over a hundred years of homelessness! They have all rotated in and out of jail. Some have even found themselves doing a stint in prison during that time. They are all known in the local Emergency Rooms. Some have severe mental illnesses, some are HIV positive, some can’t read or write, some struggle with addictions, and some have chronic illnesses. Their stories are long, their struggles enormous, and their suffering has been horrendous. 

I write this, because, instead of being lifted up, they have been stomped on, ridiculed, judged, and harassed over the years by the very ones who should be elevating them. Yet, because they’ve been deemed unworthy and unsightly, the police have frequently been called on them, they have felt personally watched and attacked by the powers-that-be, and they have all suffered the trauma of being shoved away and evicted. 

BUT, I’m happy to say, my 5 friends are now housed. They are all healthier. They are more at peace!. They can all now sit on a couch, in warmth and comfort! This didn't come about by those political gangsters executing their will, this came about because people have come together, loved one another with Kingdom Love, and rallied together for the sake of others.

It came about because people were willing to say "you're important" 
It came about because people embraced them as "children of God"
It came about because people were able to say "you are loved"
It came about because people have sacrificed for the sake their neighbors
It came about because people were willing to be a voice for the voiceless
It came about because people protested against inequality and racism
It came about because people were willing to "love their neighbor as themselves"

It came about because they know who they are, they know they are worthy of love and should be seen, and they possess remarkable resilience, strength, and perseverance.

It came about because we have Someone who died and rose again for us. His love made it possible for those at the bottom to rise up, not be controlled by the empire and to be welcomed into his eternal arms of love! He is the One who proclaimed, "Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven."

This is the way to confront the empire! 
This is Kingdom Love! 


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