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The Reverse Kingdom

Sometimes I find myself singing a nursery rhyme I heard many years ago, The Reverse Kingdom. It has several stanzas, but the first two are the ones that stuck with me: 

They told me that in The Reverse Kingdom, 
the bird swims and the fish flies, 
that cats don't go “meow” but say “yes” 
Because they learn a lot of English.  
They told me that in The Reverse Kingdom 
Nobody dances with his feet, 
That a thief is a policeman and another is a judge, 
And that two and two are three.
Let's see what it's like
The Reverse Kingdom (encore) [1]


Indeed, when I was little, I found it funny, a reverse kingdom. However, it is more than just a nursery rhyme. In The Reverse Kingdom " thief is a watchman and another is a judge".   

Chile, my country of origin, was where I received my education, norms, concepts, principles, and values I am guided today. As in any part of the world, I grew up seeing injustice. In the schoolyard, the older children abused the younger ones.  Students were chosen as the school's best students only because they had a better economic situation. But when you're little, you don't have the vocabulary, let alone the experience to understand, and usually, the answer you hear is, "that's life." Really? 

Time went by, and injustices were still present, but they were no longer about taking the ball away from the youngest. They were worse, present in all environments and spheres of society, becoming part of everyday life. And well, the church was not left out of them. 

" thief is a watchman and another is a judge..."

I don't typically talk much about the fear, terror, and trauma that the dictatorship caused to those of us who lived through that period. To varying degrees and levels, the consequences of those seventeen years have been devastating. The ramifications are reflected today in the inequalities in education, health, and the economy directly affecting the fragile in society, the elderly, children, low-income families, and those living on the periphery. We live in a reverse kingdom where "one thief is a watchman and another is a judge." 

Mistrust, insecurity, and fear were part of our daily life. Deaths, disappearances, assaults were topics of conversation at the dinner table. The bombings, the continuous machine-gun fire, the curfews, the helicopters flying low became part of the noise of public transportation and the filth of environmental pollution. Eventually, you learn to live with it and move on. There is no other option. It was not unusual to see families divided, neighborhoods divided, communities divided. Because it was not just fear but terror, it caused one neighbor, a friend, or a family member to turn the other in. It was not unusual for soldiers to beat men, women, and older people, to burn people without compunction after dousing them with gasoline. The damage, the pain, left an open wound that time has not been able to heal.

It is to get out of a bubble that does not allow me to see beyond my nose.

When Scripture is interpreted from a dominant position, from a superior feeling, it is difficult to answer the one who's suffering, to the oppressed, to the marginalized. Let us not forget that Scripture was used to justify slavery, genocide, colonialism.  Who delivered it? Those in positions of authority, power, and privilege, thus allowing them to remain in their roles and feel justified.  The recipients of these interpretations, through repetition, become convinced the injustices they experience are their fault.

How do you live your faith under such circumstances? How do you make the Gospel come alive in such a horrific context? Doesn't Scripture provide an answer to situations of horror and brutality? The feeling of bewilderment was like trying to drink water with a fork, not having answers, alternatives, and tools to deal with the present. Interestingly, the Catholic Church, through its writings, statements, and actions, offered me answers.  

I uncovered that to speak of equity, equality, rights, abuse of power, oppression, the dignity of the poor and the underprivileged is not to be a socialist or a leftist. It is to get out of a bubble that does not allow me to see beyond my nose. It is to get out of a culture that elevates individualism and enables you to enter the world of the "other," to know their suffering, their ravages, their poverty of life, and to cry with those who weep. It is to go to Indian Reservations, to go to the homeless, to the beggar, to the abandoned child, to go to all those whom society despises. It is to "proclaim good news to the poor. proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free" (Lk 4:18). The Gospel is a gospel of liberation. Liberation from the slavery of sin. Freedom from toxic patterns of behavior. Liberation from habits and addictions that destroy the body and soul. Freedom from fears and traumas.  The Gospel is a gospel of liberation. 

It was a liberation for those of us who were looking for answers amid the chaos we were in.

At that moment, I could see the magnitude and beauty of the Gospel. It was a liberation for those of us who were looking for answers amid the chaos we were in.

To the entire American continent (North, Central, and South), Christianity arrived with violence and abuse of power, creating an image of a destructive, oppressive, and despising Christianity in the inhabitants of the New World. Jesus, by his example, teaches us precisely the opposite. "The Word became flesh" (Jn 1:14), identifying himself with the human race and being born in a despised village, growing up in a family, learning to walk and talk, to later walk with the needy, with the despised, with the leper. To be arrested, judged, and sentenced to die like any criminal. 

Considering the history and context in which we find ourselves in the United States, it is imperative to give space to the voices of those communities that have been intentionally marginalized and give space to listen and learn from them. Maybe then, our context won't be like The Reverse Kingdom.

[1] El Reino del Revés. María Elena Walsh.


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