Aside from midnight church services, family reunions, and Ryan Seacrest parties, a significant number of people will celebrate New Year’s Day from the less festive setting of one of the many Syrian refugee camps, in countries like Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, or Iraq. These camps symbolize the narrative of the millions of Syrians who have fled their homeland due to the civil war raging since 2011. Their past is filled with political and financial trauma associated with refugee life. Their future is even more threatening as they struggle to reunite with loved ones, deal with the tragic deaths, and readjust to a new life where their Syrian passports may be their single economic asset. Their future is largely unknown. For these survivors, what is so “happy” about 2016?
On Monday night as I read and watched the unfolding news coverage of riots, my Facebook newsfeed bombarding me with posts both from activists and from folks who hated the rioting but didn't care about Freddie Gray, I thought about saying a prayer for peace.
I started to pray, but God interrupted me, in the words of the prophet Jeremiah:
"They have treated the wound of my people carelessly,
saying 'Peace, peace,' when there is no peace.
They acted shamefully. They committed abomination.
Yet they were not ashamed."
Was I the “they?”
Who are God's people here?
Our relationship to place is so conditioned by our life experiences. When I moved to North Cambridge, Mass., from the expansive West Coast, I got a lesson in the meaning of “near” and “far.” Walking around my new neighborhood, I greeted an old woman sitting in front of her house.
“Did you grow up around here?” I asked.
“Oh no,” she assured me, “I grew up way over on Sherman Street.” Sherman Street is about three blocks from where we were talking, but it is a different neighborhood. So in the language of her personal geography, Sherman Street is not “around here.”
When I traveled to Israel this summer with a group of seminary students from Andover Newton Theological School and Boston University School of Theology, what struck me most was another lesson of geography: If you live in a country the size of New Jersey, your sworn enemy might literally be your next door neighbor.
The book of Jeremiah straddles the most momentous event of Israel’s history: the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple and the exile of its leaders to Babylon (586 B.C.E.). In the first half of the book of Jeremiah, the prophet announces that God is furious with the people of Judah, in particular its leaders, because they have reneged on the covenant they made with God through Moses. They have not taken care of the poor, and they have not lived according to the stringent demands to worship God alone.
Not surprisingly, the leaders do not want to hear Jeremiah’s critiques of their ways of doing business. No politician wants to look weak – even before a god. According to Jeremiah, the leaders of Judah have prioritized – not the building of an ethical community – but their own comfort and position. Their desire to maintain their own power and influence has trumped everything. And these politicians have justified their behavior so many times and in so many ways, they don’t even recognize how far they have fallen from the ideal that guided the building of the nation.
Debates on immigration in the United States continue to move in the default direction of North/South. As such, the prominent debating points often direct public attention to the U.S./Mexico border fence and the Latina/o community. By sleight-of-hand, many in the mainstream media tend to recast a centuries-old U.S. immigration experience as a Latina/o problem.
Unlike the variety of migration stories in the Bible, the forces creating migration for many Latina/o families are closely tied to the issues of power and hyper-consumerism. Often as a last resort do immigrant families enter the northbound currents of low-wage laborers that, as Bishop Minerva Carcaño describes, feed “the economic machine in this country.”
Ever since the global financial cabal drove the world's economies into a ditch, popular movements have been rising up to fight "austerity measures" that exact punishment on the poor and leave the rich untouched. This is a familiar biblical meme for the definition of injustice. The words of the prophet Jeremiah come to mind: "Your clothes are stained with the blood of the poor and innocent" (Jeremiah 2:34).
"When Spanish mayor Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo recently led farmers on a supermarket sweep, raiding the local shops for food as part of a campaign against austerity, his political immunity as an elected assembly member protected him from arrest. He now asks other local mayors to ignore central government demands for budget cuts and refuse to implement evictions and lay-offs. In this era of austerity, such flagrant disrespect for the law ought to be encouraged. Sometimes, the greatest strength of popular movements is their capacity to disrupt. So here, for the benefit of imaginative indignados, are five examples of civil disobedience:
Wall Street has been devastating Main Street for some time. And when the politicians -- most of them bought by Wall Street -- say nothing, it's called "responsible economics." But when somebody, anybody, complains about people suffering and that the political deck in official Washington has been stacked in favor of Wall Street, the accusation of class warfare quickly emerges. "Just who do these people think they are," they ask. The truth is that the people screaming about class warfare this week aren't really concerned about the warfare. They're just concerned that their class -- or the class that has bought and paid for their political careers -- continues to win the war.
So where is God in all of this? Is God into class warfare? No, of course not. God really does love us all, sinners and saints alike, rich and poor, mansion dwellers and ghetto dwellers. But the God of the Bible has a special concern for the poor and is openly suspicious of the rich. And if that is not clear in the Bible nothing is.
This series written by Logan Mehl-Laituri for God's Politics focuses on selective conscientious objection. Read more posts in this series here.