What does the kingdom of heaven look like?
As a kid, I thought I knew. The kingdom of heaven looked like the flannelgraph figures I saw every week in my Sunday School class, images of white people in primary-colored robes kneading lumps of dough or spreading seeds from a leather pouch. The kingdom of heaven, my teachers explained, was the place where I’ll go when I die, a place where I’ll get a crown with a jewel for every time some bully teased me for loving Jesus.
Of course, I outgrew this simplistic explanation, but as an adult I struggled to find satisfying answers. Not that I didn’t hear people talking about the kingdom of heaven. Politicians and preachers would routinely invoke the kingdom, even as they pursued power for themselves and upheld systems of oppression, insisting that their guns and riches do God’s work.
In the face of such confusion, I returned to my Bible. Jesus talked about the kingdom throughout the gospels, but more often than not, those teachings looked like this: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). A one-sentence simile, with the barest of narratives. The explanation Jesus gives for using parables doesn’t help much either. According to Mark 4:11, Jesus answers his disciples’ questions about his rationale by saying, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables.”
Where has that secret been given? Has it been given to me?
It is given, Jesus suggests, through stories – and I have found surprising glimpses of it in the stories of the movie theater: human beings struggling through everyday life and finding moments of grace. That’s where I see glimpses of God’s kingdom, projected in twenty-four frames per second.
READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT PLOUGH QUARTERLY