FOR some people, perhaps a growing number of people, the word “kingdom” will never be rid of its unhelpful connotations. The word has accumulated just too much baggage over too long a period to be useful in prayer, and — worse, perhaps — is understood to be giving quite the wrong message to those who are seeking to understand the faith that they are tentatively making their own.
The issue here is not fundamentally different to the problem with the word “father”, but it is somewhat more deeply embedded, as there is no parallel phrase that we can use here to match “motherly father”. A subtle and helpful suggestion has been made, however, which, while almost a pun, can help people today get more of a feel for what Jesus had in mind when he spoke about a divine “kingdom”.
The idea was given prominence in the writing of the late Dr Ada María Isasi-Díaz in her book, Mujerista Theology. It is simple enough. Rather than pray for the coming of God’s kingdom, we should pray for the coming of God’s kin-dom. Removing the “g” doesn’t make a huge difference to the way the word sounds, but it has a huge impact on how we understand it. Whereas the word “kingdom” suggests a vertical hierarchy, kin-dom suggests a horizontal solidarity.
IN FACT, it is in the context of emphasising the importance of true solidarity that Isasi-Díaz introduces the “kin-dom” idea. She writes from the perspective of Hispanic or Latina women who live in the United States, the mujerista. These women are only too aware of the extent to which their lives are limited and controlled by sexism, racism, and economic oppression. Her intention is to give priority to solidarity over the notion of charity, which she sees as too one-sided to reflect Christian ideals.
But she is also aware that “solidarity” is a concept that has been corrupted and cheapened. For Isasi-Díaz, solidarity is not a feeling of connection, nor is it a matter of agreement with a group taking a certain position. True solidarity is the union of “kindred persons” who have a common interest and whose relationships are imbued with mutuality. Solidarity is the virtue of those who accept their interconnectedness and then respond to the oppression, pain, and injustice experienced by others as if they were members of the same caring family.
Dropping the “g” from “kingdom” offers a challenge to move not only from charity to solidarity but also from complacency to concern and engagement. It is to move away from the perspective that thinks, with the 19th-century poet Robert Browning, “God’s in his heaven — All’s right with the world” to the perspective of the mujerista living in the United States, who experience the underside of oppressive structures quite personally, and who know that charitable handouts will never lead to justice for them or their families.
ONE of the more constructive social responses to the early phases of the impact of Covid-19 on our communities was the recognition that key workers include many in low-paid jobs, and, in particular, that the work of caring for others — that is, meeting the basic bodily and practical basic needs of the vulnerable — is poorly paid and hugely undervalued in Western societies. People who say the Lord’s Prayer regularly might expect to feel increasingly uncomfortable that those whose work is vital to the well-being of others and the functioning of society are under-rewarded for their efforts.
The irony here, of course, is that those who really do exercise care for others are, in fact, behaving in a way that reflects the “kin-ship” that is the ideal and goal of our prayer. In terms of Christian values, they are high achievers. The hoped-for result of the prayer might therefore be that we come to see and value care not as something to be attended to when the more important things on our to-do list have been ticked off, but as something quite fundamental to who we are, and intrinsic to God’s intentions for the well-being and fulfilment of us all.
The Revd Dr Stephen Cherry is the Dean of King’s College, Cambridge.
Extracted from Thy Will Be Done: The 2021 Lent Book © Stephen Cherry 2021 (Bloomsbury Continuum, £9.99 (CT Bookshop £7.99); 978-1-4729-7825-7)