Keep Watch | Sojourners

Keep Watch

We are perched on the eve of a dark era in American history. If the United States were a person, you might say we’ve entered our rebellious teenage years. We are engaged in self-destructive behavior: self-harm, licentiousness, and body dysmorphia that leads to binging and purging.

In the last week alone we have witnessed our president-elect exercising licentious defiance of fact, slicing deep cuts into his relationship with U.S. national intelligence agencies by proclaiming that he trusts the analysis of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange over the consensus of 17 U.S. intelligence agencies. U.S. intelligence has reached broad consensus that Russia hacked our elections in favor of Mr. Trump.

Likewise, the newly sworn-in GOP-led Congress, drunk with power, launched its tenure by trying to dismantle the Ethics Committee. But when voters flooded their offices with calls to stop, they shifted course and focused instead on another part of their binge-and-purge strategy: Lawmakers are working out the details of a budget plan that could call for as much as 62 percent of all cuts to come from programs that serve poor people.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are simultaneously attempting to repeal the Affordable Care Act with no plan to replace it. Millions will lose their health coverage and thousands of images of God will be erased from the world because of lack of care.

Then there is the president-elect’s cabinet confirmation hearings binge — all six set to take place over Jan. 10-11. Most appointees are inexperienced in governance, and many do not believe the government should have a substantial role in the arena they have been nominated to manage.

We are entering dark times, especially for the ones Jesus pushes us to protect: the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the immigrant, the imprisoned, the naked. These are the ones who will suffer first and greatest in the new era.

It is coming. We can’t stop it. But we can resist.

We can stay woke and refuse to stand down.

I sat on the first wooden pew of the Metropolitan AME Church in Washington, D.C., on New Year’s Eve, with 500 faithful from across the country and thousands who watched online, to worship, testify, and encourage each other.

We came together in the tradition of the 1862 “watch night” service, when enslaved and free African-Americans, abolitionists, and others awaited news that the Emancipation Proclamation would become law and would free black people living in the South. We came together also in the tradition of Jesus, who told his disciples to “keep awake” while he prayed on the night before his crucifixion.

Interfaith leaders and movement organizers rose one by one to declare why they could not stand down:

Priscilla Evans fights for a $15 minimum wage because working full-time still did not make ends meet for her family. She had to give up her child for adoption.

Maegan Wilson continues to fight for clean water in Flint, Mich. She declared, “When water is treated as a commodity, people die.” And she warned that 200 million people are suffering from water problems across the country.

Esvin Maldonado was displaced by war in El Salvador. He pled on behalf of all immigrants fleeing hardship to make a better life for their families. He pled for protection under the coming administration. “Please help my people,” he said. 

Other organizers proclaimed they would not stand down on criminal justice system reform, health care justice, and housing justice.

And faith leaders testified. One after another, they rose to the pulpit and called the faithful to not stand down.

Rev. Traci Blackmon shared with the congregation that earlier that day, not far from where Michael Brown was shot dead, a homeless man hung himself because he could find no reason to hope in this world. The city wiped away all evidence that a man had lost hope that day. She called the congregation to #StayWoke.

Rev. Dr. James Forbes reminded the congregation that even if it is the last days, as some posit, the spirit of God promised in Acts to come down and empower all to live into their God-given calling. And he called for a spiritual audit to discern if we have bought the lies of empire: promoting class, race, and gender distinctions among us.

Imam Talib Al Rashid of the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood, Bishop Valerie Rawls of Unity Fellowship Church, Rabbi Rick Jacobs of the Union for Reform Judaism, Valerie Kaur of RevolutionaryLove, Rev. Robert Hardies of All Souls Unitarian Church, Rev. Waltrina Middleton of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, Howard University, and Rev. Dr. Katharine Henderson of Auburn Theological Seminary also reflected on the nature of the coming darkness.

Valerie Kaur asked this profound question: “What if this darkness we’re experiencing is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?”

What if we are not about to die, but rather we are the midwives to the true America?

What do they tell us we must do to give birth? “Breathe, then push. If we don’t push we will die!”

I called all within earshot to remember the company of Hebrew priests, who after leaving 70 years of slavery in Babylon decided to write down the creation story that had been passed down orally for generations. In the writing, they made commentary on the creation story of their oppressors.

These priests painted a picture of the Spirit of God hovering over the deep; over the chaos, over the home of the gods of their captors. God hovered like a chicken broods over her eggs. She hovered over the gods of their oppressors as if ready to do battle.

And how did God do battle? God said, “Let there be light!” God cut the darkness.

I am not afraid of what may come, because that is what God does. God cuts the darkness. God cut slavery! God cut Jim Crow! God can certainly cut this.

I will not stand down.

Rev. Barber called us all to remember Nebuchadnezzar, a narcissist king who told three Hebrew boys to bow down and worship him. “But Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego were part of a moral movement,” he said. “Every generation has a moral movement... Nebuchadnezzar would not have fought so hard to get these boys bow down, if he didn’t know the power they had if they stood.”

I’ve entered 2017 ready. I’m ready to stand up and refuse to stand down.

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