Riots and the Kingdom of God

Something must have happened to me on my blogging hiatus over the past year or two.

Yesterday was a day when everyone was talking. And all I could do was listen. I didn’t have anything to say.

It may seem like even after listening I didn’t quite hear. I know we’re supposed to be talking about the Uprising, not the Riot. Hang with me for a few minutes and we’ll see if I have been faithful in my transgression.

There are days when writing about Jesus seems to wear thin. Those are the days when the absence of the Kingdom of God makes the Jesus story so incredible that it can only be consented to by faith.

There are days when I know that I don’t have anything to say because I have the luxury of burying myself in conversations about texts whose authors have been dead for the past two thousand years.

Sometimes their voices peek through, though. And sometimes they help me understand.

I don’t have anything to say to Baltimore about the protests, but I think the uprising has something to say to me about the Kingdom of God.

“Not during the festival, or else there might be a riot among the people!”

Yes, I learned something from the Jesus story about riots. Those words, those riot-avoiding words, are the words of the duly installed leadership in Jerusalem.

Jesus had questioned their institution by overturning tables in the Temple. Jesus had warned about a greater judgment that was looming because they rejected justice when it presented itself in his own person. Jesus had accused them of complicity in the beating and deaths of innocent men.

The country-bumpkin, backwoods prophet was going to be the full object of their hatred, scorn, and power over life and death.

“But not during the festival, or else there might be a riot.”

Riot avoidance is the concern of power. Riot avoidance forms part of the strategy of how injustice is deployed. Riot avoidance is the way of freedom for the oppressor and the murderer.

When my gut reaction is, “Make them stop the riot,” I need to check myself. It so easy to think that we yearn for peace and justice when we want the riot to stop.

But the riot might be the clearest pointer to the truth that we have yet seen.

The leaders wanted to seize Jesus. They first expressed this desire after his clearing of the Temple.

No more buying and selling in the court of the Gentiles. No more calling evil good and then thinking that the Temple will be the talisman that keeps you safe.

For awhile the people didn’t need to riot–because Jesus had protested for them.

The people had a champion, for a few short days, who was saying what needed to be said, calling the leadership on its abuse, calling out the leadership on its participation in the abuse and murdering of innocent victims.

On Friday I wrote about judgment and blessing. A crucial moment in the turn from judgment is to realize that “they” are “we.” In this case, though, I wonder if it might need to happen a little differently.

When we see a riot break out, it is easy to judge. To see “those” people as needing to turn, needing to enact a better way forward, needing the forgiveness of their neighbors–and even ourselves.

But what happens when we get off our high horse and begin to ask how “they” are “we”? Maybe we are the ones who have destroyed their communities, ruined their lives.

We might begin to see that this is not “riot,” but “protest.”

The uprising might have a power stronger than that of a rock to smash a window or a fire to consume a CVS.

It might enable us to see that the people had to riot because we did not protest for them.

It might enable us to see that the people had to rise up because nobody was calling murderous actions to account.

In the shards of broken glass we might see our own images reflected dimly.

We are the ones who need forgiveness. We are the ones worthy of judgment.

We have been unconsciously, unknowingly stirred to be part of the riot of silent noise that enables and perpetuates our culture of death.

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3 thoughts on “Riots and the Kingdom of God

  1. Daniel, The female African-American mayor of Baltimore who is obviously closer to the situation then you are in San Francisco or I am in Houston has referred to some of the rioters as “thugs.” You write, “Riot avoidance is the concern of power. Riot avoidance forms part of the strategy of how injustice is deployed.” Actually I would think that riot avoidance is also the concern of the owners of small businesses which may have been destroyed or have had their sales drop radically during this event. I would think that riot avoidance, as the mayor says, is the concern of many average citizens of Baltimore who wish not to see their infrastructure reduced to rubble and ashes. Again, the mayor has been very clear about this, but alas Daniel, under your scheme she is apparently part of the power structure!

    The notion that Jesus is or was a champion of the “demos,” the people,” is, to me, absurd. Jesus was and is a champion of the rule and reign of God and not the rule and reign of people or of “the people” (though of course the rule and reign of God is in the end much better for people than their own reign.)

    Having been a teenager and then in my early 20s during the 1960s, [which obviously Daniel you did not do :-)], I have a problem whenever anyone talks about “the people.” In the 1960’s the mantra was “power to the people.” In Marxist thought (and I am not at all saying that what you said is Marxist, but the comparison is instructive) “the people” generally refers to the proletariat which is understood under the influence of Hegel as being the “historical class.”The historical class,” “the people,” the proletariat, the oppressed, for Marx, incarnate the goals and the end of history. To kill some people, e.g. Kulaks under Lenin and Stalin, for the sake of “the people,” the historical class, the proletariat, is acceptable.

    Is there oppression of many African-American youth in America? No doubt. Some of this oppression is systemic racial oppression, and some of it is the oppression of the disintegration of the family in America in general but especially among African-Americans, and some of it may be oppressions to which they have acquiesced, such as addictions to drugs or alcohol or the oppressions of hatred and resentment. In that they are no different from any of the rest of us.

    Casey Jones

    Sent from my iPhone

    1. I am trying to follow your line of thought, and struggling. You write, “for a while, the people didn’t need to riot, because Jesus had protested for them.” I realize that Jesus’ action in the Temple could be perceived as violent protest against abuses by those in power, but wasn’t it also (and more) a prophetic demonstration of His messianic vocation? Further, didn’t Jesus ultimately demonstrate–and teach–nonviolent protest? What did “the people” that followed and learned from Jesus, the people who were transformed by His example and teaching, ultimately do to change the power structures under which they were oppressed? We can begin to arrive at an answer by noting what they did not do. They never resorted to violent protest against the Jerusalem authorities, the Herodian regime, or Rome. They didn’t steal stuff from others, throw bricks at people, or burn everything in sight.

      I think riot avoidance was the concern of Jesus Himself. And I think His followers picked up on those cues and showed us how to change the world without riots, or even without public protests for that matter.

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