The following is a transcript of a Raised Catholic episode. To listen to the episode, click here.
Today is episode 101: Upside Down Kingdom
Well, hello friends. As we enter further into Advent 2022, I’m finding myself inundated by messaging from the world, on social media, and even from the church: messages about winning, about defeating perceived ‘enemies’, tribal messages about ‘us’ and ‘them’ – including a terrifying increase in antisemitism, racism, white supremacy, and nationalism, even from supposed Catholic Christians. As these ideas become more prevalent and even normalized by a kind of a cloaked language, we seem to be racing toward a seriously dangerous tipping point.
I don’t know, friend. The world just kind of seems upside down, and not in the way that Jesus intended.
I believe that it’s past time for us to look at the ways in which Jesus in which did speak and at what He actually did teach, because so much of what we are hearing these days from some of our priests and other public Catholic voices in this country is literally the opposite of He taught. And it’s no surprise, I guess. Leaders in Jesus’ day rejected His teachings too, as they saw the threat to their own power. As institutions grow, of course there will be the temptation to protect and to grow power. We’re only human. Over 2,000 years of church history have seen abuse, clericalism, and legalism in church structures which Jesus did not intend, but which probably could have been predicted as a result of our basic human nature. Power corrupts, after all, but the increasing comfort with language around antisemitism, white supremacy, and nationalism as a rising trend within some corners of the American church – this must be addressed clearly and head-on.
Jesus did speak about his upside-down kingdom, a kingdom in which we die to self in order to rise to new life. This life is rooted in humility, service, and even suffering, which is not a message you would think people would sign up for, but many did and many still do. Jesus introduced these upside-down ideas in his Sermon on the Mount, ideas which include the Beatitudes and a series of clarifying principles based on the teachings his audience had been raised with, each one beginning with ‘you have heard that it was said’ (something), and then ending with ‘but I tell you’ (something more). Jesus was a revolutionary. He was turning literal tables and turning everything they knew on its head. Can you imagine hearing these words and then deciding to leave everything you knew in order to follow Him? Jesus said,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?”
Okay, so loving and not demonizing our enemies, you say? Hmm. Does this sound like something a typical American Catholic might say today? Sadly, friend, I am not so sure. We seem to be descending so deep into culture war language that even the idea of love has become ‘woke’, and my goodness, what does that say about us?
Jesus referred to Himself as a teacher and a shepherd, and not as a king. He said, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
Well, ‘dying so that we might live’ is the ultimate countercultural idea, and it was central to the teachings of Jesus. Among His other many upside-down teachings was the one about the widow who contributed two small coins. Jesus said she had ‘put more into the treasury than all the others’. Then there was that one from Paul about rejoicing in our weakness, because that’s where God’s power is made perfect in us. I don’t know about you, friend, but I tend to whine in my weakness more than rejoice. Jesus was always saying and doing things which were the polar opposite of how the culture understood them at the time. He elevated the value and the gifts of children and women when they were thought to be merely property, and not even people. He drew followers who were different in every way – race, religion, profession and way of life, and he joined them together, working in community for common cause, and when He was under threat, He ordered his apostles to lay their weapons down. Jesus was mocked, humiliated, tortured and killed, which according to the world’s standards would make Him a failed king but the kingdom of Jesus is not of this world. We, His followers, are called to be salt and light, to give and not to get, to serve and not to rule. We are called to carry a cross and to die. Ours is an upside-down kingdom.
When I hear the language of some of the more public voices in Catholic Christianity in America today, I can’t help but hear the difference in message, and honestly, friend, it scares me how this Church I love seems to be wandering so far afield.
Our focus on political power, on securing seats in legislatures and judiciaries and then using this power to change the culture, our religious alliances with alt-right voices which normalize hate and violence in the name of winning, our increasing celebrity Catholic culture – all of this belies the kingdom of a humble suffering servant who called us to love one another. We seem to be forgetting that His kingdom is not of this world, and so winning this world should not be our goal.
Love God and love one another. That’s what He said.
Friends, in this second week of Advent, I wonder if you would agree that the world seems increasingly dark. This week, I wonder if we could try to be a little bit of light out there. Let’s be a star in the night sky that might lead one other person to know the reality of who Jesus actually is: our good shepherd, our kind teacher, our king of an upside down kingdom which is for all people. When we hear something or see something that is contrary to the teachings of Jesus, let’s say so, for our good and for the good of the world that He made in love. Let’s be light for our brothers and sisters in all places. Let’s live upside down.
Well thanks so much for listening. If you need me, you can find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my blog at mylittleepiphanies.com. Thanks so much for rating, reviewing, subscribing and most importantly, sharing this podcast with a friend. That really makes a difference in growing our community, so thanks. If you’d like to support this podcast financially, there’s a way for you to do that in the show notes, along with some resources related to today’s episode, so do check all of that out, but before we go, let’s pray together.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
God, please give us illumination, understanding, and discernment to see the world around us and then please give us the courage to live and to grow your upside-down kingdom in love. Please bless us and our dear ones too as we come to know you as shepherd, teacher, king, and friend. In the name of Jesus and wrapped in the mantle of His mother, Mary we pray, amen.
Well thanks so much for listening today, friend. I’ll see you next time.
This week, we’re exploring Jesus’ upside down kingdom, and comparing His actual teachings to some of what we’re hearing from some of the more public Catholic Christian voices in America.
If you’d like to connect with me, find me on Instagram or on my blog. If you’d like to help support this podcast financially, there’s now a way to do just that, and thank you – visit me on my page at buymeacoffee.com! Thanks as always for sharing, subscribing, rating, and reviewing, as this helps our community to grow!
Here are some resources I hope will help you to engage with this week’s topic in a deeper way for yourself:
1. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 5-7
2. Podcast: Upside Down Podcast, Conversations on Spirituality, Culture and God’s Upside Down Kingdom
3. From Here Media, encouraging the love of God, Neighbor and Self through print, online and in-person offerings
4. Article: Ye’s Trump Dinner is a High Point for Catholic Nationalists’ Influence Campaign, by Religious News Service
5. Community: Smart Catholics – an online community for Catholic millennials, creators, and learners who want faithful conversations that are unafraid of doubts and questions. Find quality content, insight and connection here.
6. Music performance: Kingdom of God, by John Guerra
7. Song: Come, O Light, by Ginny Owens and the Geneva School of Manhattan
8. Audio series: Sermon on the Mount reflections by Fr. Richard Rohr