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The Recess Queen: A parable about subverting empire…

November 17, 2008


Mean Jean is the Recess Queen and she rules the playground with an iron fist. No one dares to question her power until a new student comes to school and changes the way the recess works.

“What will make us submit to truth about our enemies, especially if it undermines prejudices that sustain our enmity?  Nothing will.  Nothing, that is, unless in the midst of enmity we refuse to project dehumanizing images on them and are willing to embrace them as friends.”  –Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace

How does the gospel Jesus Christ challenge and subvert the empires and ideologies of this present age?  Perhaps it is a bit like the story of Katie Sue subverting a recess emperor through a disarming act of inclusion.  “The enemy” is transformed into friend not through coercive power over aggression. This is not an eye for an eye.  This is subversion of a different kind.

This is not a story of social leverage gained through jungle gym alliances. Nor is it a story of divine intervention carried out by a playground monitor. No it is much more radical.  And simpler. It is a story about the power of an alternative narrative to shape characters.  It is a story of liberation and transformation of the oppressor.  It is a story of reconciliation.

Katie Sue is the protagonist–the character whose actions reframe the narrative of dominance and oppression which gives Mean Jean her sense of identity–but at the same time alienates her from the possibility of real relationship, friendship and belonging.  Katie Sue reframes the narrative by living freely as if she was not controlled by Mean Jean’s regime of terror and oppression.  She enters recess with a playful reckless abandon–Katie Sue swung before Mean Jean swung.

Whenever the assumptions of the empire are challenged there is often a violent backlash.  The principalities and powers do not deal kindly with those who do not bow to their authority.  So it is when Mean Jean’s dominion is challenged.  The Recess Queen is NOT amused. Mean Jean “in your faces” Katie Sue.  Katie Sue is undaunted. How DID you get so bossy? She stands her ground and looks into the face of empire unmasked.

She stands in the way that three Hebrew exiles stood up to a Babylonian king even when it meant a fiery furnace.  She stands in the way a Jewish Rabbi who subverts the religious and political powers with a cross and empty tomb.  Katie Sue embodies this same kind of subversive power.  Power from weakness fearlessly looks into the face of the oppressive powers and speaking words of truth and grace.  She does so in the tradition of William Wilberforce, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and other lesser known playground heroes.

Katie Sue sees Mean Jean, not as a monster to be feared, but as a friend to be released from captivity.  She sings the liberating words of invitation:

I like ice cream, I like tea, I want Jean to jump with me!

Where did the audacity come from to stare into the soul of this playground bully and see a potential friend.  Where did this prophetic vision come from?  The Jesus story provides a possible answer.  The gospels point to the one who incarnates love by making space within himself for the whole world.  This kind of radical inclusion of alienated, mean humanity is visible at a Samaritan well and on the cross.  Perhaps it requires seeing people through the cross.

So Katie Sue looks Mean Jean in the face and invites her out of her captivity to the role of oppressor.  She invites her to step out of the Recess Queen persona as a source of identity and value.  That puny, loony thing engages with Mean Jean, not as a demonized other. not as someone to be excluded or eliminated, but as a person who needed to be loved.

Katie Sue invites Mean Jean to jump rope with her.  Katie Sue invites her into a different playground narrative–one that makes room for Mean Jean to be included, but not in an oppressive way.  Katie Sue offers that which not other character in this story had thought to offer–the possibility of friendship through inclusion. Her invitation disarms Mean Jean and in the end proves to be transformational.  She lays down her old framing narrative and is free.

1.  How do we speak truth to power in a way that looks like and sounds like Jesus?

2.  How can our living with a vision of an alternative kingdom of love and justice free us up to see all others as humans who need to be invited into a friendship?

3.  How is kindness and inclusion of the other a transformational act of subversion which rejects power and aggresion as a way of dealing with the enemy?  How might we invite our enemies to jump rope?

4.  What implications does this story (“parable”) have for embodying the way of Jesus as we relate to the other?

5.  How have Christians embraced an empire narrative which seeks to bring about a righteous, peaceable order through power over (legislative or military)?

6.  What is the relationship between freedom and order?

7.  What is the relationship between truth and power?

8.  How is the word from the cross expressed in the way we relate to others?

In the gospel narrative, we are all Mean Jeans, and God comes to us as the initiator of relationship (while we were enemies, alienated…).  In the gospel narrative, Jesus is Katie Sue.  Jesus has disarmed the principalities and powers, so we are free to go into the world and unmask the oppresive powers which seek to dominate and exclude.  Jesus sends us to embody his way of transformative love and inclusion.  He calls us to follow the example of Katie Sue.

Boucity, kickity, swingity

Hoppity, skippity, jumpity,

Ringity, zingity,


5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 18, 2008 9:39 am

    What a wonderful story –

    I wonder what the writers would say to your framing the story as “a parable about subverting Empire.” :-)

  2. just an apprentice permalink
    November 18, 2008 6:10 pm


  3. November 26, 2008 4:42 am

    Cool story, yes.

    Thanks. Is the book available in bookshops?

  4. just an apprentice permalink
    November 26, 2008 12:57 pm

    You can get a copy of this book through Amazon.


  1. 2010 in review « just an apprentice

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