We feel a deep darkness in our world and in our society right now. We can almost taste it, touch it, and smell it. This darkness invades our souls like a damp, long, December night, bringing a chill all the way inside.
“We’re all born to live, to love and to die,” he said. “Between the birth and the dying the question is what do we make of it?"
In this sense, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is an Advent movie. Director Rian Johnson’s wildly fun and thoughtful entry into the Star Wars canon finds its heroes at a precarious turning point. The film makes its characters grapple with the flaws of their established order, consider whether any of it is worth saving, and move forward by embracing the hopeful qualities of the Force and the Resistance.
When we can name even the source of our hopes and fears as some kind of grace, we can actually experience God’s grace.
This has been a devastatingly difficult year for many of us, to say the least — even for those of us whose homes and families haven’t been directly hit by any of the ongoing wars, natural disasters, or the reckless actions of the current president. Around this time last year, many in our country were insisting we needed to withhold judgment and give #45 a chance. While some church leaders led us in lament after the election, too many in our churches urged us to “wait and see.” More than 10 months in now, we’ve had time enough to witness more grievous offenses than we thought were possible from anyone in that office within such a brief period.
NOW THAT WE can say “Merry Christmas” again (Did we forget to thank you for this? Thanks. No, really. Thanks a lot.), I wanted to cut to the chase with my wish list this year. It’s short.
I would like a white people intervention. Please get as many white Christians—progressive and evangelical—in the same room for a cleansing flood of white tears, some deep breathing and healing prayer, and time to plan to dismantle white supremacy. As just one of several million Asian Americans, I can only do so much to keep educating white people about the system their ancestors—who did or did not enslave people or benefit from slavery (by the way, all Americans who aren’t African American benefitted from the evil of slavery)—created and continued to adapt and adopt.
ADVENT MARKS THE BEGINNING of the Christian year, for many. We await the return of Jesus and prepare for it by revisiting the story of his first coming. In Isaiah 64, the prophet longs for God to tear the heavens and come down, a description more apt for the latter return of Jesus than his first appearance. The longing for Jesus to return and fix the world’s mess escalated for many last year about this time and was expressed by a widely read online Advent devotional under the hashtag F**kThisS**t. (The original title was unapologetically uncensored. The originators argued that “to convey a visceral gospel, we must sometimes use visceral language.”)
There is a theology that says one day God will clean house and fix everything. In the meantime, we have to live here. Advent is about waiting and preparation. What shall we do while waiting for the return of Christ? What can we do about the state of the world? The gospel for the second Sunday in Advent calls for spiritual work, confessing and repenting sins (Mark 1:4-5). The following week the gospel suggests that there is work to which we can put our hands: “Make straight the way of the Holy One” (John 1:23).
The wall wasn’t supposed to come down.
Günter Schabowski, a spokesperson for the East German Politburo, was tired. He hadn’t thoroughly read the travel regulation updates, handed to him shortly before his news conference. He didn’t know the document’s shifts in rhetoric, developed by leaders in the East German government, were simply an attempt to appease the swelling ranks of East Germans demanding reform. On Nov. 9, 1989, facing journalists’ cameras and notepads, Schabowski took questions for a forgettable almost-hour. Then someone asked about rumors the border may open.
Schabowski mumbled over his answer, confused. But a few of his words were clear: “Immediately ... right away.”
Reporters pounced. Breathless reports in West German media soon filtered over the wall through East Germans’ pirated signals. The Politburo had assured checkpoint guards that no changes had been made, but it was too late—a trickle of curious East Berliners quickly grew to massive crowds, yelling “Open the gate!” At a loss, and unable to get through to leadership for clarification or backup, the guards eventually gave in. Within hours, nearly 40 years of iron-fisted East-West divide was undone.
One of the most familiar biblical passages to be read during Advent is from Isaiah 9:6: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
At the time it was spoken, the whole world was falling apart, or so it seemed to the eighth-century prophet Isaiah. Looking over history at a string of failed rulers, and staring into the abyss at ongoing chaos and political disaster, Isaiah looked forward to a time when God would send an heir to the throne who would be a different kind of ruler, a divinely appointed one (the Messiah), and his name would tell his character. Isaiah promised a people whose hope was failing that a baby would be born.
But where do babies come from? They come from women, women who endure the discomforts of pregnancy and the excruciating pain of labor to bring forth life. Except for in the most tragic circumstances, the joy of birth comes after the culmination of many months of sacrifice and uncertainty by the mother in pregnancy and is her just due for hours or days of the agony and uncertainty of labor.
No wonder childbirth is a common trope in scripture for political crisis and uncertainty. Childbirth (and pregnancy) spotlight a mother’s sacrifice, discomfort, suffering, and the unknown outcome of her labor. Divine deliverance will come, but not without near-unbearable periods of turmoil, disaster, uproar, and darkness.
In January 2016, the Rev. Cynthia Meyer told her United Methodist Church congregation she felt “called by God to be open and honest” about who she is: “a woman who loves, and shares her life with, another woman.”
On Jan. 21, I’ll join thousands in D.C. for the Women’s March on Washington. My first stop will be at a local congregation, one of several hosting a prayer service and warming station for marchers. I’m an anti-racist, feminist, Christian, and for me, faith will be part of the day.
I’ve been disappointed with Christian silence, and even active resistance, to social justice imperatives, but my commitments to justice stem from my faith, and that’s why I march.
If irony wasn’t dead, I’d say how ironic it was that in the midst of this season of Advent, in which we look to the nebulous future, a time-not-yet shaped by our ability to be patient and hopeful and tense and a bit sorrowful about what we cannot see but hope we shall soon see, our societal life is filled with those for whom there is no future.
This sight of poor refugee parents and a humbly born baby surrounded by dirty shepherds and visitors from other religions and races and cultures should jolt us. It’s meant to. The manger shows us a world far different than our own, one that we’re being summoned to create with unconditional love and inclusion.
1. A White Supremacist By Any Other Name
“… it quite literally took [Richard] Spencer and other members of the alt-right ending a meeting with Nazi salutes and cries of ‘Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!’ for supporters and outlets to understand that the alt-right is just the new face of white supremacy.”
2. The Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar
This gorgeous Advent calendar has us all .
3. How to Stay Safe Online: A Cybersecurity Guide for Political Activists
An essential 8-step guide.
If I’ve learned anything since my time in Rome, it’s that people — not just Catholics — are hungering to connect peace with justice. This is why those of us who traveled to Rome just before the election, accompanied by Stockton, Calif., Bishop Stephen Blaire, and Houma-Thibodaux, La., Bishop Shelton Fabre, are preparing for a regional WMPM meeting in Modesto, Calif., in February.