This week tragedy and grief rocked our community. A wonderful young girl died, the second child this family has been forced to grieve. Our hearts break for them. In the midst of our sorrow we hear of more tragedies on the other side of the world, as children were murdered in Pakistan. It seems lately the news and our communities are too full of mothers and fathers grieving for their children.
There are very few words which don't seem empty and hollow at times such as these. There has been much talk of prayer, prayers for the grieving, prayers for our children. The word "prayer" does not quite capture what these tragedies draw up from our very souls. Rather, it seems we are drawn toward mother lion roars reaching out to God and demanding God show us a place to stand so we might move the world toward a place where our children are safe and their hearts and their bodies need never be broken. We are drawn toward groaning out our earth shaking grief which will not be pacified but will undergird our determination to support our brothers and sisters in their time of sorrow, in their fight for justice and healing. Though well intentioned the word "prayer" seems a whisper where a rallying bellow is needed so we might change what can be changed and commit our long lasting support for those who are grieving what cannot be changed.
I am grateful there are many for whom this is what "prayer" means. God show us a place to stand.
Monday, December 8, 2014
Preparing a sermon for this Sunday, I alternated back and forth between worrying I was saying too much and thinking I was saying too little. Was I putting people on defensive? Was I not being bold enough, not speaking clearly enough? I ended up speaking the words I thought I would find helpful if I were in the pews. I also said some things my heart needed to say. I thought I would say them here in this space as well. The scripture read was Mark 1:1-8 about John the Baptist. Advent is the season in the church year preceding Christmas when we anticipate the celebration of baby Jesus and anticipate the second coming of Jesus. Here is what I said:
Advent this year has been overshadowed, for me, by other events: conversations, studying, and sorrowing over social justice issues both those brought to attention by recent events and the ongoing injustice of poverty around the world. These have been my focus due to a variety of circumstance. Advent and Christmas, I have given little thought. I suspect this is the case for many of us, whether news events are on our minds or tragedies and heartbreaks closer to home. But as we hear today from a wild prophet called John the Baptist perhaps this is not an overshadowing of Advent but rather an embodiment of it.
In talking of John the Baptist, Jesus says, “But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and one who is more than a prophet (Luke 7:26).” “Prophet” means one who proclaims the will of God. Throughout the history of Israel, one of the main duties of a prophet is to call the community back to justice, to call attention to injustice, to remind the people of God’s love and concern for the most vulnerable. The book of the prophet Isaiah begins with a plea addressed to a “people laden with iniquity…(1:4) calling them to “…learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. (1:17)” The prophet Micah laments oppression and injustice and then calls out “ … and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?”
We do not have an itemized list of the sins which motivated John the Baptist’s call for repentance. However, in his position as prophet and considering the wide broadcast nature of his cry to repent, it seems likely he was addressing communal sin which was often a call to justice on behalf of the outcast, the stranger, the poor, and the widowed.
Amidst the bells of Christmas this year are voices ringing out a call to justice. Banners of protest hang amongst the wreaths and garlands. Our televisions, our computers and our conversations bring cries such as “Black lives matter.” We hear warnings of increasing iniquities as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Creation groans under the weight of environmental degradation. Cries, shouts, and tears for justice abound.
Yet there is static which hampers our hearing. The static sounds different for each of us and for each justice issue. Sometimes our pride blocks our ears as we protest not all men are sexist, not all white people racist, not all police officers are bad. Sometimes our hesitancy masquerades as uncertainty as we fixate on a particular incident and proclaim our ignorance of all the facts saying, “ We don’t know what really happened.” Sometimes we complain of our neighbors’ methods of expressing their pain, decrying riots and disruption of communities. These grains of truth are thrown in the face of the larger picture and we fail to see our neighbors hurting, we fail to hear the voices of the oppressed, the voices of the poor, the voices of those harmed by the iniquities of our community.
And so the voice of John the Baptist cracks through the static “Repent!” Preparing the way of the Lord by calling us to see injustice.
There are hurts and tragedies in our communities and our families which will never be on the news. This time of year can make these hurts all the more poignant. Yet as the call of John the Baptist washes over these hurts they become a reminder of our common humanity and become part of the stream which flows toward justice, flowing toward the one in whom the hopes and fears of all the years are met.
Advent is a season of waiting with anticipation. Waiting with anticipation often means listening intently for the first sound, the first clue the one awaited approaches. Throughout scriptures Jesus repeatedly draws a connection between himself and those who are outcast, poor, and oppressed. As we listen for the sound of Jesus’ approach, we can hear it best in cries for justice. Those voices ringing out a plea for equity, those banners waving in protest, and the aching of our own hearts mix appropriately amongst the twinkling lights and festive music for in them we hear the booming voice of John’s call to repentance and the gentle whisper of hope in the coming of the one who makes all things new, God’s love made flesh, Jesus. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Thursday, November 27, 2014
Recent conversations have made apparent some major misunderstandings about racism.
Being racist isn’t always about calling black people the “N” word. Sometimes it is about making assumptions. Imagine if a 12 year old blonde white girl was shot while holding a toy gun. Would the comments to follow be about lack of parenting? Would it be assumed there was nothing else which could have been done? Would the phrases about “police just doing their jobs” be thrown around so liberally? It is not all about the facts of a particular case, it is about the assumptions which are made and the effort we exert to find a way to blame the victim or the victim’s family, or the victim’s culture.
I do understand it is difficult for police officers and police officers’ families. As a farmer I am familiar with feelings which arise when people accuse one’s career. I don’t appreciate it when farmers are blamed for destruction of the environment in a way which implies we are motivated by greed and implies we are poisoning people rather than feeding them food to sustain life. It is not fair either to imply police officers are trigger happy bullies rather than people laboring at a difficult job trying to serve and protect.
But racism these days is not often about people who would shoot someone just because of the color of their skin. It is about systemic realities and attitudes which increase the likelihood of a young person being shot if that young person happens to have dark skin. These things do not happen in a bubble. In Ferguson, for example, the context is a community divided by race. It is only logical this shooting would raise suspicions in such a context and anger would result when those suspicions were not given the honor of a complete trial.
I am a privileged white person living in a rural area so I am no expert on racism. However, I have heard comments such as “We would be better off if we didn’t have that black man as president.” If one person can have such an abhorrent attitude is it really such a stretch to imagine a police officer being a little more frightened, feeling a little more threatened when the one the officer is confronting is black? Is it such a stretch to imagine there might be some individuals who value a black person’s life less,(though I would not assume this of the police officers)?
If overt racism like this still exists how much more must more subtle racism exist? Most often these days it is not about name calling or ignorant denigrations based on skin color. Now it is about larger systems, our assumptions, and the fear these systems and assumptions beget.
I am glad for the conversations I have seen taking place regarding racism. Many are frustrating and some even hurtful but at least we are talking about race issues. Now what is the next step? Protesting brings attention to the issue but the powers that be have become too proficient at making protestors look like violent hooligans or fringe nut jobs. I am praying now for compassion, understanding, and listening and also creative leaders who will find new ways of educating and inspiring for change. Any ideas?