The Kingdom of Heaven is not yet here. The Kingdom of Heaven is an ideality. Put another way, we are not yet heavenly. We may never touch the Kingdom of Heaven, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality. We have never been heavenly, yet the Kingdom of Heaven exists for us as an ideality that can be distilled from the past & used to imagine a future. The future is the Kingdom of Heaven’s domain. The Kingdom of Heaven is a structured & educating mode of desiring that allows us to see & feel beyond the quagmire of the present. The here & now is a prison house. We must strive, in the face of the here & now’s totalizing rendering of reality, to think & feel a then & there. Some will say that all we have are the pleasures of this moment, but we must never settle for that minimal transport; we must dream & enact new & better pleasures, other ways of being in the world, & ultimately new worlds. The Kingdom of Heaven is a longing that propels us onward, beyond romances of the negative & toiling in the present. The Kingdom of Heaven is that thing that lets us feel that this world is not enough, that indeed something is missing…
The purple introduction to this post is a copy of an exercise from a literary theory class I took one year ago. It’s the first page of José Esteban Muñoz’s book Cruising Utopia, except his original words queerness & queer have been replaced with the Kingdom of Heaven & heavenly. The aim was to illuminate parallels between the hope of Christ (justice & grace) & queer futurity. After reading the paragraph this way, we wrote on the whiteboard: “God is Queer,” & I wrote in my notes: “The Kingdom of God is Queer.” The Kingdom of Heaven that grows in our midst, it struck me then, is not a worldly empire, but a horizon to strive toward & simultaneously a seed to tend to.
The Muñoz exercise has echoed through my consciousness for the last few months, resounding off words shared by one of my favorite poets, Natasha Oladokun. I met Natasha at a writing conference my senior year of college, where she was a guest speaker; I’ve been learning about poetry--& God--from her social media accounts ever since. On June 7th, Natasha tweeted: “It’s wild to me that white Christians can pray ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ but STILL don’t have the imagination for a police-free world right now.”
That same day, a friend had confronted me with what he saw to be the absurdity of abolishing the police: “What I’m saying is based on history,” he wrote (ignoring the history sources I’d tried to share with him). “Look at history. When people don’t have something in the way of them being evil they do evil things to each other.”
“It’s looking at history that convinces me we need a different future,” I reply. “We’re called to support the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, so that is what we must strive toward every day--growth based on love & grace. Not fear.” Of course this friend, again, ignored what I was saying & instead paradoxically retorted that “cops are not here for fear,” but we should be terrified to not have them as they are in their violent present iteration because they discourage fearful criminals... Regardless, our exchange caused me to think more deeply about prayer, especially once I’d read Natasha’s tweet.
Thy Kingdom come can be embodied, & has been in Christ. The words we meditate on, the words we pray, they shape our ability to imagine a new future, & to enact it. Does God, like our society, rely on police brutality to move marginalized people off of the streets (into prisons, into erasure)? Or do we remember Christ as a healer? Someone who invited outcasts & sex workers to share a meal with him, who fed the hungry instead of dismissing them as ill-prepared, who as a homeless vagrant cured ailments & disappointed all expectations for a militaristic demeanor? That's what I remember of the gospel.
Christ's work is “an ideality that can be distilled from the past & used to imagine a future.” & prayer can be an exercise in imagination/emulation. Replace words with “the Kingdom of Heaven,” & then that phrase with action in order to enact a heavenly future. A queer one (non-normative, mysterious, infinite): one that we catch in glimpses but isn’t quite yet here.
Make prayer prophecy.
On earth as it is in Heaven means no police on earth means striving for abolishing the police means protesting means lawmaking means embracing a future based on love & grace.
This future, of course, doesn’t change just the police. It reframes all of society, uncovers all totalizing systems of fear & oppression. The Bible is full of prophets; why do we contemporary Christians, particularly white ones, find it so hard now to see that God calls us to reimagine the present? To be radical? But then again, many of those prophets were marginalized. Maybe for what they said. Maybe because that position allowed them to see it, to say it, to hear God’s call. So what can we learn from the margins today? From today’s marginalized people?
What future do they offer?
I myself don't have much to offer (other than referrals)--not now at least--but theology is one of my passions, & in sermons I'm especially fond of the benediction, so let me (and Muñoz) leave you with this:
May you today & in the future--for the future--strive, in the face of the here & now’s totalizing rendering of reality, to think & feel a then & there. May you feel the warm illumination of the horizon of the Kingdom of Heaven, & may you, following the way of Christ, embody it.