K is for Kingdom

The Kingdom of God – a phrase many Quakers are uncomfortable with, but one which I, somewhat to my surprise, find myself hearing and using increasingly. Some examples:

In a small group towards the end of my Equipping for Ministry residential week, when we had been sharing very deeply and supportively together, the avowedly non-theist in the group said as we finished: ‘We have just shared a taste of the Kingdom of God’.

‘The Kingdom of God is Here and Now.’ The first words I remember hearing from Thich Nhat Hanh on a retreat he led at the University of Nottingham in 2010. At that point I knew that this was a Buddhist group I could belong in.

‘And he said to them, “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.” Mark 9:1.

Invited to share my hopes for the future at the conclusion of a weekend looking at our spiritual gifts, I say ‘to bring the Kingdom of God to Watford’. I’ve also found myself saying in ministry that ‘the Kingdom of God is here, now, but it doesn’t look much like it because most people don’t realise it’.

So what do I understand the ‘Kingdom of God’ to mean? There are some clues in my previous posts about God and Heaven. I would use ‘Heaven’ and ‘Kingdom of God’ interchangeably. ‘Kingdom of God’ suggests very strongly that God is in charge, that it’s a theocracy. It describes the way we aim to run Quaker meetings. Modern re-writes such as ‘Divine Republic’ just don’t quite work for me, though I do understand people’s discomfort with the connotations of ‘Kingdom’ – sexist, elitist, etc.

Another example: conversation at a breakfast meeting for Christian leaders in Watford ‘If you haven’t a leader, then who’s in charge, who makes the decisions?’. Pause for thought on my part, then I reply: ‘God’. Pause for thought by other party, then: ‘well, I suppose that’s what we think too’.

I think it is fair to say that my understanding of the Kingdom is a sense of something mystical, but I also feel that it could be ‘real’ – though to achieve it we have to change our lifestyles drastically, and, as an absolute minimum, ensure that everyone (everyone in the world, not everyone in Watford, or everyone in Britain) has enough to eat, adequate health care, access to education and so on. This means a lot of us having a lot less things, travel, holidays, cheap clothes, cheap, exotic food. Not an easy change to make.

 

4 thoughts on “K is for Kingdom

  1. This is marvellous, Stephanie! I love the Christian leaders’ breakfast, but that Thich Nhat Hanh quote in context just about sums it up. The distance between Liberal Quakerism and Engaged Buddhism is measured in microns 😉

  2. Having recently written this, I was particularly interested to hear references to the ‘kingdom’ at Britain Yearly Meeting. In one session the word/idea came through so clearly that it was included in the minute (see below). The minute reflects the tension between the essential practicalities of the material world and an awareness of the possibility/reality of the ‘kingdom’.

    Minute 20: What it means to be a Quaker today: Trust in Trusteeship
    We have continued our consideration of what it means to be a Quaker today by focusing on Quaker Trusteeship. We have been reminded that our spiritual journey is about living in the world and wrestling with the tensions between living out the testimonies and dealing with practical, financial and property matters. The real test of our faith is whether we can connect with the spirit in the mess of our daily lives.

    Having bodies of named trustees is therefore not about giving all the power to a small group but making sure that all the difficult work gets done. Nor should we be surprised if mistakes are made, as this is where we as individuals fail as well. Both trustees and meetings need to hold each other in the light and above all to keep the lines of communication live and vibrant. We all belong to the same worshipping community and are all working together and it is the same spirit that leads us.

    Community is two way. Trustees need to empower other Friends to ask questions perhaps by making minutes more readily available and other Friends need to talk to trustees and ask for information. This openness will in turn support trustees in their work. God has placed trust in us. We need to honour that trust in moving forward together to build the kingdom.

  3. Your answer at the Church Leaders breakfast resonated strongly with me – I’ve been having some discussions with some ecumenical group members and tried to explain the lack of authority figures. I think I’ll use your quote as an example! Thank you.

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