The One in Which I Talk about Politics and Living the Upside-Down Kingdom in a World Gone Mad
by Kris Coffin Stevenson | 29 October 2020 |
I cried over an octopus today.
I watched a Netflix show about a photographer who made friends with a little octopus living in the kelp forest off the cape of South Africa. An intelligent creature, she dazzled with her antics, camouflaging herself with shells and stones, twirling herself in seaweed, and playing with fish. She seemed to like the photographer and would reach out a tentative tentacle to touch him, eventually cuddling up to his chest for some love. He delighted in following her story, her ocean smarts, her self-sacrifice for her offspring. But unfortunately, octopi don’t live long and so I cried.
It made me question how we can love a foreign species but hate another human. Why can dogs be our best friends, and cats and chickens entertain on us on Facebook and Instagram, but then we denigrate our own kind, faces contorted with rage, because of tiny differences like the shape of a nose, the texture of hair, the beans we eat, our style of clothing, or our party’s political platform?
As the election looms before us, these differences appear even greater. Some Christians are adamant that you can only be a Christian and a Republican and some are just as adamant about being a Democrat. Some don’t think Christians should be a part of politics at all and that how we vote doesn’t really matter.
How should we behave when the world has gone mad?
Jesus’ example is the only safe place to go for answers. In his life he showed us where true power comes from, how to resist evil oppression, and where to direct our focus.
The Overturned Kingdom
Jesus took everything we know about power and turned it upside down. In the wilderness, he was tempted to choose worldly power instead of God’s kingdom. The devil used the temptations of the mountain, the temple, and the bread to entice Jesus to distrust God’s plan. The mountain symbolized the social aspect of politics where the winner holds onto worldly power through force. The temple temptation represented religious institutional power. Multiplying the bread would have given Jesus total economic authority. With these three things under his control, he could have ruled the entire world forever (The Upside-Down Kingdom, Kraybill, p. 33).
But Jesus was working off of a different design. Immediately after the wilderness temptations, Jesus returns to his hometown and announces the advent of God’s kingdom by quoting Isaiah 61. This is Jesus’ answer to the devil’s temptations. God’s kingdom is based on releasing the captives, bringing sight to the blind, letting the oppressed go free, and sharing the good news with the poor. Oh, and it will be available to the Gentiles too. After that statement, his hometown people tried to kill him.
Twice, when Jesus walked into the Court of the Gentiles in the temple, he discovered that it was crowded with livestock and wheeler-dealers who were money-laundering the sheep. Just a few steps away, the table of showbread in the temple illustrated the symbol of the bread of life that sustains God’s children. But here the tables were strewn with overpriced merchandise that was being sold to support an economic system based on human works. Jesus overturned these tables of perverted goods, and just as he flipped over the moneychangers’ tables, he spun the concept of power upside down.
Jesus’ Upside-Down Kingdom:
- If you want to grow big, start small. Luke 13:18-21
- If you want to be strong, become weak. I Corinthians 1:25
- If you want riches, give everything away. Psalm 37:21,26
- If you want to be first, be last. Luke 13:30; Matthew 20:25-28
- If you want to live, give your life away. Mark 10:45; 2 Corinthians 4:11
Jesus made it clear that you cannot serve two masters. Either you follow the principles of the Kingdom of Heaven, or you are devoted to “mammon”—the god of our own making that we trust in to sustain us (Matthew 6). Jesus’ life illustrates that we should devour the bread of life instead of feeding off of mammon. Living a life where you trust God to provide political, economic, and social power in your life means you are right side up to God’s kingdom but backwards to the way our world operates.
The Third Way
He’s standing in the courtroom. His powerful opponent has taken everything he owns to satisfy an unpaid debt, and the system has given the creditor the right to ask for the man’s cloak as well, which is his dignity, his coat, and his blanket for the night. Instead of fighting or tossing the cloak away and fleeing, he turns court jester. With a laugh and a bow, he hands over his cloak and then his clothing too, leaving him (gasp!) naked. The court is in an uproar, but the point has been made. The oppressor’s actions are cruel. Pushed to their logical conclusion they will leave the man defenseless, without even basic shelter (Jesus and Nonviolence, Wink, p. 20). What is exposed is not just the creditor but the entire system. In the Old Testament, God set up ways to take care of the poor, widows, orphans, and foreigners through special tithes, gleaning, and the Jubilee. But the religious elite found loopholes to get past these rules and traded them for a system that enriched themselves.
There are three possible responses to the misuse of power: fight, flight, or the militant nonviolence that Jesus modeled. “Jesus proposes not a retaliatory blow or dropping to the ground in submission—but a third way. Offer the other cheek and rob the oppressor of the power to humiliate.… Such nonviolent resistance exposes the evil act and shames the aggressor. It does not compliantly accept injury but resists it, not with violence, but with love” (Kraybill, pp. 182,183). The nonviolent way is powerful because it showcases the corruption of the person or system perpetuating the injustice.
A friend of mine was shopping when a man in produce began ranting about masks, politics, and liberal Democrats. He became more and more angry until he finally yelled out, “All Democrats must die!” My astonished friend blurted out, “But that’s over half of the country!”
Everything in God’s system shows that God loves the world—the whole world. Jesus tells an end-time story about an unfaithful servant. The servant is put in charge of the master’s affairs. But when the master delays his coming, the servant begins to abuse his employees. He says to himself, “‘My master is taking his time coming,’ and starts bullying the men- and women-servants, and eating and drinking, getting drunk” (Luke 12:45). The unfaithful servant breaks the house rules of the Kingdom of Heaven and uses the delay to enrich himself and to exploit the workers. Jesus’ warning here is about how you treat people, particularly the weak, foreign, or friendless. To those battered by life’s politics…
Lepers, tax collectors, adulteresses, Samaritans, centurions, demon-possessed
…Jesus’ life is good news.
The overturned tables in the Court of the Gentiles are Jesus’ declaring “Gentiles matter too.” “The new kingdom would have bigger doors, bigger tables, and a much bigger family. The old ways created tribal identity through separation and exclusion. The new order welcomed everyone” (Kraybill, p. 140). When Jesus tossed the tables in the temple, he was rightsizing the kingdom. He overturned the overturned kingdom that had been flipped on its head by Adam and Eve when they chose to believe the serpent rather than trust God.
After the election, our politics, political party, or presidential candidate won’t save us, but our response to people we disagree with or who abuse us during these events is the biggest revealer of whether we’re a Christ follower. “I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:38-44).
The election matters because we all will have to deal with the cost of our choices. But what matters eternally is our allegiance to the right-side up kingdom and the principles of love and servanthood that are at its foundation. How you react to those who think differently from you, how you treat the “least of these,” how you use the power, money, and responsibilities entrusted to you by God, these are the eternal metrics at play here.
So as you vote (or not) during these tumultuous times, and as we live the consequences of our voting decisions, remember to focus on the core of the Kingdom of Heaven: love, grace, service, forgiveness.
Your coworker may have political candidate signs in his yard that make you nauseous; your church friend may volunteer for a political party that you abhor; but they are all your neighbors, all children of the same heavenly Father. He asks us to live backwards to the world’s kingdom in order to live out his kingdom here on earth. He takes pleasure in our crazy capers, our curiosity, our perseverance, our reflection of his character of sharing. He loves our heart when we cuddle up to his chest and wrap our arms around him. He weeps when we suffer. He loves all of us despite our inconsistencies, our stumbles, our blind spots.
So if I can cry over an octopus, an ocean of differences away, I can cry over you.
Kris Coffin Stevenson is an author, teacher, editor, and scopist. She loves living her eternal life starting now. She and her husband reside in Santa Clarita, California. You can follow her writing at bthelove.net or bthelove on Facebook.