This week I continue my reflections on the recent Universal Christ Conference. There were three main speakers at the event, including the Rev. Jacqui Lewis. One of her very straightforward statements has kept my attention: Empire kills love.
She was talking about the Roman Empire crucifying Jesus, but also much more. She said that empire always strikes back. It has done so in a variety of ways, throughout history, and hasn’t always needed to kill in order to accomplish its mission.
Jacqui Lewis used one example from the history of the Jewish people, who were conquered by the Babylonians. Once Jerusalem was captured, Nebuchadnezzar took the Jewish leaders and promising youth away in captivity to Babylon. There, while these captives lamented their exile, they also slowly became enculturated. After a while, Babylon became what the people knew, what they liked, what they understood. Yes, many of the elders wept for Jerusalem, but their children only knew Babylon. After a while, the Babylonian Empire’s wealthy, modern capitol became much more familiar and comfortable than shabby, neglected Jerusalem in backwater Judah.
Any love that those exiles might have felt for the people—and the God—they left behind in Jerusalem was eventually drowned out by the siren song of Babylon. That’s why the prophet Isaiah had to basically write an ad for the Holy Land, calling the people to come home—to their God as well as to their homeland.
Even today, it’s easy to get comfortable with empire. That’s certainly happened here in America, as I see it. Some of my ancestors were serfs who came to this country to escape repression by powerful landowners. They came seeking better lives for themselves and their children. Yet here my fellow Anglos are, a few hundred years later, persecuting and even killing those who wish to do the same. My “people” have been enculturated by the powerful and lost touch with the God of the gospels, who loves every part of what God has created, including every human on the planet.
Empire continues to strike back today, too. Today’s crucifixions look like family separations at the border, mosques and synagogues burning, and people being shot because of the color of their skin. Empire kills love because, as I’ve said before (quoting Richard Rohr), “Emperors don’t want the poor in spirit. They want loyalists.” People in power (including our current president and too many leaders in congress) want people to worship them instead of Christ. They don’t want us to love. As Jesus proved, love is dangerous. Treating everyone equally is dangerous to the empire’s status quo and stated goals.
Jacqui Lewis said much more on this topic than I can share in this post, but I appreciated her bottom line. Her challenge to us is to “love the hell(!) out of people.” Empire teaches us to become comfortable in hell, especially for those who are less obviously affected. If one person is being crucified, we are all being crucified, because we are, every one of us, the body of the universal Christ. As I also said last week, the divine dwells in you and in me. Dare we believe it—and live accordingly?
In what ways have you been enculturated by empire? Can you find a way, at least conceptually, to love every human on the planet? What would it look like to put that love into action this week?