Through Chaos, Bring Shalom

By Onleilove Alston 11-07-2016
Image via /Shutterstock.com

This election cycle has uncovered the racism, sexism, and nativism that has always been present in American society, hidden under the covers of political correctness and multiculturalism. For many of us, Election Day and what happens after fills us with dread. And frankly I would categorize this election cycle as one word: chaotic.

The interesting thing about being a person of faith is that when circumstances look the bleakest, that is when the spirit of the Most High God can break through in the most profound way.

Take a look at our Bibles: Goliath, a giant, attacks the small Hebrew nation; and David, a short teen, takes him out with one smooth stone. The powers that be plan a genocide for the Hebrew people, and an orphan Hebrew beauty queen speaks up and saves her people. Yeshua (Jesus) is wrongly arrested and executed by the Roman Empire, and three days later he rises from the dead restoring hope to his ragtag group of disciples who go on to change the world.

Jews from various cultures gather for Shavuot speaking different languages and the Holy Spirit comes and through the noisy chaos helps each person to hear the Gospel in his or her own language. We now call this Pentecost.

All of these circumstances have two things in common: chaos, and God's intervention through everyday people.

As someone who grew up in the inner city community of East New York, Brooklyn, during the crack epidemic as a foster child, I know a thing or two about chaos and the anxiety that it can produce. I also know a thing or two about God's intervention through everyday people: My grandmother and aunt getting my little brother and me out of traditional foster care after finding out we were in the system. Sister Catherine, the Catholic nun who served as my caseworker and advocated for my little brother and me to receive proper care in New York's broken foster care system. The brothers preaching on the streets of Brooklyn that blacks were indeed in the Bible, planting seeds of cultural pride in my heart that would flourish into my work uncovering the African roots of my faith. The Baptist church that welcomed me as a teenager who walked off the street and accepted Christ as her savior.

The beautiful thing about chaos is that it creates cracks in which the spirit can flow through. It is this hope — that the spirit of the Most High God will step into the chaos humanity has made and right the wrongs that keeps many of us going.

In Isaiah 65:17-25 we read of the new heavens and the new earth, where:

  • There will be no more weeping
  • No more shall there be an infant that lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days; and
  • They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their children with them.

When I read the verses above as a black woman I think of the high rates of African-American infants who die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). I also think of the police brutality that prevents so many black men and women from reaching old age. When I think about laboring in vain, I think of the countless migrant workers who pick our crops yet don't have enough food to eat. And when I think of women bearing children for calamity, I think of the countless press conferences of weeping black mothers whose children have been slain, making it appear that as a black woman your children are born for calamity.

This passage states that all of this injustice and suffering will end and out of this current order of chaos we will receive new heavens and a new earth. Yet when will this Kingdom to come break into our reality? I don't know. But what I do know is that the word of the Most High God will come to pass. And as a faith-based organizer, I also know that as James, brother of Jesus, writes, "Faith without works is dead."

If we truly believe that one day the Kingdom will break in and put an end to the chaos we live in, we need to hope, organize, preach, welcome the stranger, and visit the prisoner like we believe that the Kingdom is coming — because we each have a role to play in helping the Kingdom of God break into our reality. What if we shouldn't be waiting for God to create the new heavens and the new earth because God is actually waiting on us to create a new reality out of the chaos we currently live in?

As a faith-based organizer working on immigrant justice, when I think of America's broken immigration system I think of one word: chaos. And yet in spite of this, I am inspired by the men and women of faith who lead the Immigrant Justice Campaign for Faith in New York. Many of these people of faith are undocumented, yet they are working for justice and living out the hope that God will create a society where his command to "welcome the stranger" is lived out. These men and women are seeking to get their communities involved in this broken political system so that they can help reform it and they are not alone.

As Tova Andrea Wang writes, in "Expanding Citizenship: Immigrants and the Vote:"

The Pew Hispanic Center reports that Hispanics will account for 40 percent of the growth in the electorate over the next two decades. By 2030, 40 million Hispanics will be eligible voters, up from 23.7 million today. If Hispanics’ voter participation and naturalization rates increase to the levels of other groups, the number of Hispanic votes cast could double within two decades. Similarly, the Asian share of the electorate is estimated to more than double by 2040.

In Faith in New York, our immigrant justice leaders know about these demographic changes, and are launching innovative campaigns to ensure that the growing electorate of immigrants and people of color are able to fully engage the political system of our nation. Because if we want the political chaos we have witnessed over the past year to end, we need to have everybody at the table of political life.

See, I don't believe the new heavens and the new earth will come just by our prayers and praise. I believe that this new reality will come as we co-create a more justice society filled with the spirit of the Most High God. As we face times of chaos and injustice, as people of faith we must remember that we follow an embodied faith — where justice and shalom are not only for heaven, but will be given to us on earth. If we allow ourselves to empowered by the Holy Spirit of the Most High God, we won't fear the chaos our world is currently in but we will see this moment as a divine invitation. As Carl Jung reminds us, “In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.”

I know this election cycle has brought out the worst in our country and that many of us may be anxious about what will happen the days following the election. But remember, whatever chaos ensues — we are empowered as people of faith by the Most High God to be agents of justice. This is a divine opportunity for us to show up in the public square as prophets of shalom.

Via ON Scripture.

Onleilove Alston lives in Harlem and serves as the executive director of PiCO Faith in NY an affiliate of 70 congregations dedicated to building the beloved city. She also serves on the Sojourners Board of Directors and founded Prophetic Whirlwind: Uncovering the Black Biblical Destiny. She tweets @Wholeness4ALL. 

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