Staring At My Pile of Dirt: The cost of growing the kingdom of God in Chicago

The reign of God. God’s rule. The household of God. God’s dream for the earth. Basileia tou Theou. The justice of God…

The kingdom of God is the core content of the synoptic gospels. In fact, the kingdom of God appears 122 times in the New Testament. As disciples of Jesus, we are called to participate in building the kingdom of God. But there is always a cost…

A life dedicated to growing the kingdom ensures great adventure, as my husband and I have found. The glamour of giving it all up, living counterculturally, and letting go of socially acceptable life plans, all of which is required when you give your life to building the kingdom, can appear attractive. At the Hope House (1), an intentional community my husband and I have worked to create, along with Molly and Kevin (our core community members), we live each day in anticipation of the generosity of friends, acquaintances and strangers and at the mercy of their abundance. It all sounds exciting, so far, doesn’t it? We run into miracles just about every day.

For example, one day we got a call from someone who had read about the needs of the Hope House in a recent Daily Theology post and wanted to connect us with a friend who is a plumber. A few days later, some of our toilets and showers were working! A generous family member showed up with funding for our security door. A board member connected us with a place that donates loads of items Bed Bath and Beyond can no longer sell and we came home with a vacuum, a coffee maker, and much needed curtains. Groups of teens have transformed our dirty, cluttered rooms into livable spaces during their service trips this summer. Indeed, building the kingdom is exhilarating, and leaves us amazed quite literally every day.

But the other night, I had a break down. The glamour of spending each day building the kingdom in the Back of the Yards, Chicago is beginning to erode, and the messiness of it is becoming a day to day reality. The other night, I started to feel like I was giving beyond what I can give. The service groups have done amazing work, but hosting them is an arduous work day. Providing an open door to the staff and volunteers of the Port can be overwhelming. Starting up a community is a tough adjustment for my married self. Growing the Hope House has taken a toll on those of us at its beginning phases because of the mass amount of grunt work needing to be done to prepare for new residents. From clearing old furniture, to tackling our mice problem, to trying to fund raise to have repair needs met, the pressure can be a heavy burden.

Needless to say, building the kingdom of God is a tremendously exciting endeavor, but, there is also a cost. And sometimes, that cost hurts because it is often difficult to trust that the kingdom truly is growing. Perhaps that is why in the synoptic gospels the kingdom is compared to a seed underground (Mark 4.26-29), the smallest of mustard seeds (Mark 4.30-32), or yeast (Luke 13.20-21; Matthew 13.33). At first, growth is unseen. The seed is sown, the yeast is mixed in, the brow is sweating, but all you are left with is a pile of dirt; a lump of dough. You can stare at it for hours, but you will observe no evidence of hope.

Ten years before the first synoptic gospel was written, Paul seemed to get this pain of growing the kingdom. He painted a picture of the pain of unseen growth using the metaphor of labor pains. According to Paul, all of creation joins us in groaning for the transformation we are all pregnant with. He reminds us that to hope in what is seen brings nothing (maybe just more sweaty brows). “But when we hope for what is not seen, we wait with endurance.” (Romans 8.25).

And that’s exactly it. The night of my break down as I mumbled my grief through tears and slime to my good and patient husband, I eventually felt release. Once I expressed my pain, I was able to move on. I remembered to hope for what is still unseen. This dream of my husband, and later mine, now four years in the making, has finally been planted. The Hope House, a place where disciples can live together in community, not have to worry about exorbitant rent, so as to discern God’s dream for their life all the while serving the community, is our pile of dirt; our lump of dough.

While Tom and I, and our community, work to build the kingdom in the neglected Back of the Yards neighborhood, we hope for the unseen. We hope for a thriving community full of disciples eager to discover their own life’s pile of dirt and willing to embrace the labor pains that come with growing the kingdom.

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Click to read other posts in Daily Theology’s Vacation Bible School 2015:  Mercy Edition.

(1) The Hope House is an intentional community which exists in conjunction with The Port Ministries, serving the Back of the Yards neighborhood in Chicago. Residents live in a faith-sharing community while offering 20 volunteer hours per month to the Port according to their skills and passion. Keep up with us by checking out our blog, Hope at the Port! For more information about joining our community, click here.

To read more about kingdom of God theology, I recommend:

Pope Benedict, Jesus of Nazareth. (New York: Doubleday, 2007)

Edward Schillebeeckx and Robert J Schreiter, The Schillebeeckx Reader (New York: Crossroad, 1984)

Jon Sobrino, Spirituality of Liberation: Toward Political Holiness (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1988)

Catherine Mowry LaCugna, God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991)

Phil C. Zylla, The Roots of Sorrow (Baylor University Press, 2012)

Edward Schillebeeckx, Jesus: An Experiment in Christology, trans. Hubert Hoskins (New York: Crossroad, 1985)

Dennis Edwards, How God Acts (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2010)