Parables of the Kingdom

Story of Jean Credit: Willa Bickham (details below)

The kingdom of heaven is in a basement.

^Isaiah Lewis reads his piece as part of Geez Out Loud. The audio is an exact reading of the written article.

This is not surprising, except to the church folks upstairs. They are startled to learn that the kingdom of heaven talks to itself. That the kingdom sleeps in parking lots and pees behind dumpsters when the libraries close. They wish mercy were a bit more abstract. They wish they could give it a sandwich and shoo it away. Woe to these church folks, for they are missing out.

They haven’t heard the kingdom of heaven play djembe. They haven’t seen the kingdom of heaven break a guitar string. They don’t pray the rosary with nuns and old punks, groaning oh my Jesus in a heartfelt half-curse.

The kingdom of heaven smells like sweat and fresh coffee, chicken soup and shit. It piles bananas to the ceiling and wild pears in a bowl. It sets out grits and eggs and trays of sushi. It shares boxes of cupcakes and its last pair of socks. It paints its walls a shocking orange and its doorframes deep purple. It asks hard questions. It hides the King James.

The kingdom of heaven sleeps on wooden pews. It clogs toilets and stains clothes. It rambles in Bible study and burps at the communion table. It worries. It grieves. It forgets not to swing back. It side-eyes recovery and speaks of it constantly.

The kingdom of heaven stops you in the street. It shakes your hand, maybe asks to use your phone. It tells you about turntables while you wait for the bus. It says see you tomorrow. You hope that you will.

As a transgender, anti-racist white radical, I spent seminary raging against my and my friends’ unwelcomeness in the church. And then came an existential free-fall as I attempted to build a life that wasn’t just resistance. I started going to Mercy Community Church, a congregation of people living in and out of housing who worship, eat, clean, do Bible studies, and create community with each other. Figuring out how to receive hospitality in the pursuit of liberation can be nearly as difficult as either offering or demanding it, but I’m slowly, chaotically, learning how to belong.
Isaiah Lewis lives and works in Atlanta, Georgia.

Image credit: “Story of Jean,” 2006, watercolour, 8” x 11”, Willa Bickham.

Issue 55

This article first appeared in Geez magazine Issue 55, Winter 2020, Entertaining Angels.

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Issue 55, Winter 2020

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