Tag Archives: #Advent

The Ripple Effect #StayWokeAdvent #Ferguson #BlackLivesMatter #MikeBrown #Advent

2 Dec

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About the writer: Identifies as a Follower of The Way, Anglican/Episcopalian/Quaker hybrid (which means raised Quaker, the unprogrammed variety, but then became an Episcopalian, when in the U.S. and Anglican, when in Canada..look for me at coffee hour and I will explain) but also Catholic Worker, mystic, former attorney (owned own law firm in U.S., with almost 10 years of living in a courtroom before the Gospel awakening) now a reservist with Christian Peacemaker Teams (“CPT”), formerly with CPT’s Aboriginal Justice Team but also spent a wee-bit-of- time with CPT in Colombia (that’s South America not the District of), Palestine (Occupied West Bank) and U.S./Mexico Borderlands (or the Occupied North). Iranian national by birth (born in Shiraz) and now a naturalized U.S. citizen. Female. Prior cat owner but now lives vicariously through internet cat memes and videos, to the consternation of many. On Twitter (with cat disclaimer): @shiraz43. I sent my Facebook account to Sheol, or the “abode of the dead,” as loosely translated from Hebrew.

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The Ripple Effect #StayWokeAdvent #Ferguson #BlackLivesMatter #MikeBrown #Advent

By: Chris Sabas

Week 1 of Advent: 1 Thessalonians 5: 1-22 (New Revised Standard Version)

I write this post in response to the recent challenge to

“reflect;

cry out;

meditate;

repent;

accept grace;

pray;

weep;

wrestle;

wake up;

question;

hope (if even just a little);

sit with darkness;

squint at the light;

read;

write;

create;

observe;

listen”

in an effort to keep watch and not be silent in light of what we have witnessed in #Ferguson, Missouri.  The writer, out of anguish, frustration and anger, asked us who observe #Advent, with anticipation of the arrival of shalom, to

“stay alert…to “stay woke”…to your senses, your mind, your body, your feelings, your spirit to where to Spirit is stirring and leaning. Stay woke….to the impact your life has on others…Stay woke…to the injustice that we either contribute to or diminish…Stay woke….to the groanings of the world…Stay woke…to the humble, radical, empire-upsetting ways of Jesus…Stay woke…to the darkness…Stay woke…to the light…and to the sacred and profane in both.”

Now trending as #StayWokeAdvent on social media, both clergy and lay members of ‘the Church’ are responding in impressive numbers. ““StayWokeAdvent” is a project of people interested in exploring the depths of the darkness and interaction with light through the time of Advent.  It is an experiment in spiritual honesty during a time of the year that is often covers up the pain and struggle of the world with a giant glittery bow.”

Advent comes from the Latin word coming or, “the Lord is coming.” As followers, we are supposed to be filled with a joyous expectation as we reflect on what Christians call Old Testament prophecies and testaments and how they have been fulfilled with Christ’s birth, or coming.  We are also to think and reflect on the predicted second arrival on Earth.  Of course, suffice it to say, reflection and introspection has seemingly been replaced with sales, wrapping paper, chocolates and smooches under some plant hanging from a ceiling rafter.

While I was still in law school, my immediate family and I decided to forego exchanging Christmas gifts because of our dismay and dissatisfaction of what we were seeing then with respect to ‘the meaning of Christmas.’  We are still dismayed and greatly dissatisfied and yes, boxes and bows still do not adorn the bottom of our Christmas tree.

But that did not negate the joyfulness that usually comes with this time of year for me…until this year.  This advent has taken on a whole different meaning for me, and in the interests of transparency, most of it is due to a recent, unexpected, significant health decline.  Ironically, in many ways, my continuing progression through the medical system will mirror Advent, and its countdown to December 25, with me receiving (hopefully) some clarification by that date.

For the most part, I have not been overly sad or distressed (yes, I do have my moments) and health permitting, I lurk on the internet or listen to the U.S. bobble heads pontificate on a range of topics, from the recent U.S. midterm elections, to the U.S. immigration debacle and even the inadequacies of the current American College Football playoff system.  When I cannot sit up for long periods of time, I stream the current H2 television series ‘Ancient Aliens’ on my laptop, while lying in bed (hey, don’t knock it until you try it!).

Oh and then there was the Ferguson grand jury.  And damn, I was feeling a bit better.  So I watched, as you did, the highly anticipated televised statement from the prosecutor and then took to Twitter to tweet my anger and disappointment.

And for the first time in a very long time, I felt irrelevant and utterly helpless.  I cursed my body and my current inability to be out of the house for long periods of time.  For approximately thirteen years, since graduating law school, and opening my practice, I was actively engaged, in some way, in what I will term the human drama: from being a public defender (primarily juvenile defender) to defending people from a variety of countries in U.S. deportation proceedings, to serving as a hospice volunteer in ‘off-hours,’ to literally ‘closing down shop,’ to continue to confront the injustices of the world with Christian Peacemaker Teams.  In CPT, we challenge ourselves and others as we address the various forms of oppression, including, but not limited to, racism, sexism, and heterosexism, within the various forms of privilege, to include white privilege.

But then came the call to stay awake and I sincerely thank the #StayWokeAdvent creator for this creative way to be engaged and the continuing challenge to think on how justice can roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (See Amos 5:24).

I thought back to a variety of speaking engagements, in which I spoke as a representative of CPT, to faith communities and circles.  I recalled reflections (and in some cases push-back) I received: “That’s all very well and good, well not really, that’s not what I mean, but what can I do about it, I mean it’s over there, and not here, and I cannot go shuffling off to some distant corner of the globe?”

Indeed.

Truly, what can I do about it….me, the perpetual professional socialist-hippy-tree-loving-committed-undoing-oppression-nonviolent-agitator-turned shut-in?

On every level, I am not surprised as to what happened in Ferguson, notwithstanding my immense disappointment.  Indicting a police officer in the United States is difficult; buildings and cars on fire have happened before in a variety of locations, world-wide, and as a committed professional socialist-hippy-tree-loving-committed-undoing-oppression-nonviolent-agitator, our job here is to challenge people to change the dialogue (i.e. no, we do not support the burning buildings or burning police cars, but who are we to judge in light of x-y-and z and the ongoing systemic abuses and hey, why don’t you continue to watch and *listen* rather than walk away and dismiss it, because it’s not about that); police in the United States, not just the Ferguson police department, are in fact militarized and the use of shields, tear gas, armored vehicles, Humvees, rubber bullets, flash-bang grenades etc. is an example of this; and Mike Brown, unfortunately, is just one of countless examples of an unarmed black man being shot, multiple times, by a white police officer.

Admittedly, I just have to shake my head (yes, with some eye rolls too) as I watch our country’s first black President repeatedly say “we are a nation of laws and rules.”  Our great grand experiment was founded upon slavery, conquest, slaughter and genocide of the continent’s indigenous communities and yes, property destruction (think Boston Tea Party and the fearless white “patriots”).  But we are a democracy and exceptional..well kind of.  The democracy began for white, male property owners and eventually has begrudgingly expanded to women and people of color…. in theory any way.  I am, um, exceptionally wary of the current Voter ID initiatives. And speaking of exceptionalism, well I just hope you are bold enough to click the hyperlink because that is the other part of the Gospel responsibility: to learn, to test, to challenge, and that usually begins by unnerving ourselves because that is what the Gospel is supposed to do, as it completely shatters and destroys our comfortable notions.

However, we within American Christendom get caught up in forecasting the end of days and how to properly proclaim Christ as Lord and Savior, and who is even “permitted” to do so.  We sadly forget how Christ went about day-to-day activity while he was with us.  We conveniently forget who he spent time with, who (and what) he challenged, while proclaiming and presenting examples of how heaven is indeed on earth. “The Gospel is not a fire insurance policy for the next world, but a life assurance policy for this world.”

Not only are we to test, but we are to live in faith, hope and love as Paul reminds us in his epistle to the Thessalonians, (1 Thessalonians 5:1-22).  “[E]ncourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5: 11).  Upon reading that Sunday morning, I thought a lot about our responsibility to test, to the #StayWokeAdvent initiative, and how to juxtapose this with Paul’s reminding us to be patient, to seek to do good, respect those who labor among us and to give thanks in all circumstances with love.

Specifically, how does this happen within the us-vs-them mentality?  And here’s the catch: all of us have it, including us progressive nonviolent do-gooders, myself included.  For instance, we saw how the FBI issued a warning in advance of the grand jury decision about the likelihood that certain elements will exploit the situation in attacking infrastructure and law enforcement should the decision be no indictment.  That then culminated with the Governor activating the Missouri National Guard, several days in advance of the announcement. Can we say self-fulfilling prophecy?

This sort of thinking is frustratingly so oblivious of its contribution to the cycle; when one prepares for war, groups such as the Don’t Shoot Coalition and its rules of engagement, i.e. Rule No 1: “The first priority shall be preservation of life” is flatly ignored and lumped with the overall “enemy out there,” regardless of the fact that the majority within the community want a profound, nonviolent change.  The community wants us to at least begin by not only looking to but deeply discussing the systemic and ongoing abuses against impoverished communities.  This will require much more than so-called ‘race relations panels’ on Fox News that has been composed of all white participants (we can now dispense with the eye-rolls and begin the face-palms).

So, then we, the ‘do-gooders’ (myself included) of course shout slogans such as “the powers and principalities at work in Ferguson,” “a police state emerges,” “stop the police brutality!” or indeed, in other circles “fuck the police!” and “burn, baby burn!”  Then we shout against other comparable loud voices, either as “experts” on cable news, or via our very own platforms provided by social media, which many times results in the crossing of a very fine line between proffering an opinion or feeling and cyber bullying.  My stomach just turns with the vitriol and rhetoric offered that justify how some lives are truly worth more than other lives, because well for starters, “Mike Brown did have cigars in his pocket, you know; he’s a thug” (face-palm continues).

And it’s not just us-vs-them over there, but us-vs them, within. The vitriol is not just reserved for the KKK who threaten to kill protestors, or to ‘rabid looters’ who burn down a beauty shop, but also to people within a movement for change who have been reported to supposedly have done something, said something or talked to someone.  It has become so easy to..uh-oh, I’m going to say it…to demonize someone.

Let me back away from this emotionally, charged example.  I remember reading an interview years ago (wish I can find it to provide a hyperlink) with senior members in Congress (perhaps just the Senate). Ted Kennedy (remember him) was still alive and offered commentary, as did John McCain, Orrin Hatch and others.  I want to say this was published either just before, or just after John McCain’s 2000 Presidential run when then, he was considered a gutsy independent maverick.

The article gave an example of how ‘back in the day,’ members of Congress and their spouses would actually get together for a meal (maybe a lunch or even a dinner) and break.bread.together.  Talk together.  Spend time together.  I do not remember how often this gathering would take place but it happened on more than one occasion.  Either Kennedy, Hatch or McCain said it was much easier to reach across the aisle and work with a member of the opposite party after having spent time with them in a social setting because he was not some monster with a spinning head (not to mention Kennedy and Hatch formed a friendship!).  Many times they did not have common ground politically, but they knew how to speak to one another and how to reach a compromise.  Yes, I know, Congress was then, and in many ways still is an ‘old boy’s club’ and no doubt the public rhetoric was just as intolerable then (Senator Joe McCarthy and McCarthyism) as it is now.  But the point of that story was simple: “now” (or when it was published) to even *talk* to a member of another party, the person is loudly denounced as a traitor to party ideals.  Since its publication, this has only intensified.

We are simply gripped in a vicious cycle of sharp partisan and ideological polarization, which has permeated every single layer of our society, regardless of issue, regardless of side, regardless of ‘ism’ and regardless of privilege.  Now, I am not suggesting we stand idly by as unarmed black men and children continue to be shot and killed by the powers of the State; I am not suggesting we stand idly by and not push that certain NFL team from the District of Columbia about the insensitivity of their current name and what it represents to Indigenous Peoples; I am not suggesting that we stand idly by as other children of color, as refugees, who sought to escape a variety of nightmares within Central America, are now being deported back to face so many unknowns within those nightmares.

NO!

#BlackLivesMatter! #NotYourMascot! #Not1More! We are to scream with righteous anger and at times, may be called upon to flip the tables of the money-changers, who typically remain within our current houses of prayer (think the institutional church, or “the church”). And within this, we need to constantly check ourselves and remind ourselves that God’s ways are not our ways and that people who follow God are the probably the last ones we would anticipate.

And who cannot simply be moved to tears by that photo taken on November 25 of a weeping twelve-year African-American boy hugging a white Portland police officer, at a Ferguson solidarity rally?  The boy, Devonte Hart, had a sign around his neck: free hugs.  Bret Barnum, a white, Portland Police Officer apparently asked, “Do I get one of those?”  The pair hugged; and what a moment, fortunately captured by photographer Johnny Nguyen.  And “the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them” (See Isaiah 11 1-10, New Revised Standard Version).

I hope we make every effort to support each other, and to respect those who labor among us, even with our differences of opinion.  This has important implications for our continuing spiritual formation within our human experience.  Our other continuing challenge is to see through God’s eyes and act in God’s ways, even when admonishment and flipping a table is needed. Let’s back away from the precipice of sensationalism.

And so, here I still sit, impatiently anticipating future medical appointments, following the world from afar and will continue to do so for the immediate future.  Sunday morning I was reminded of Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman who lived in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation and died at Auschwitz, on November 30, 1943.  She was 29 years old.

On July 3, 1942, she wrote: “I must admit a new insight in my life and find a place for it: what is at stake is our impending destruction and annihilation…They are out to destroy us completely, we must accept that and go on from there…Very well then…I accept it…I work and continue to live with the same conviction and I find life meaningfulI wish I could live for a long time so that one day I may know how to explain it, and if I am not granted that wish, well, then somebody else will perhaps do it, carry on from where life has been cut short.  And that is why I must live a good and faithful life to my last breath; so that those who come after me do not have to start all over again.”

Remarkably, for Etty, she received affirmation for the value and meaning of life, in the midst of shocking horror and that affirmation became her guiding principle: this was more than a call to solidarity with those who suffer but she was called to redeem the suffering of humanity from within, by protecting “that little piece of You, God, in ourselves.”  “I know that a new and kinder day will come.  I would so much like to live on, if only to express all the love I carry within me.  And there is only one way of preparing the new age, by living it even now in our hearts.”

And we can live it and do live it by walking our own “Little Way”, in our every day actions and experiences, within our homes, communities and circles.  It could even include wearing a sign that says: free hugs, or even giving thanks for caretakers, or washing the dishes to help the caretakers, or spending time at a local shelter, food bank or even spending time with your faith community after worship in dialogue and fellowship (maybe you can start a book club and discuss The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander).  Because every day actions and experiences, regardless of how mundane it feels (and even the petty insults and injuries, regardless of how much it stings the heart and soul), brings us within the presence and love of God the Divine.

According to St. Therese of Lisieux, Carmelite Mystic, “the Little Way” may indeed transform any situation into a profound realm for holiness, and that one might, through those little ripple effects, may actually make a significant contribution to literally transforming the world (like when one skips a stone on a smooth lake). But it will indeed take time.

And, so, for now, I’ll continue to wash our dishes when I can stand upright, and I’ll even walk the dog regardless of how much he pulls and at times sends my wobbly legs stumbling, and hopefully I can continue to take the trash can to the curb. Hey, how about a hug for this socialist-hippy-tree-loving-committed-undoing-oppression-nonviolent-agitator?  And if tears flow for either one of us, well, that’s ok because that’s the little piece of God within, outwardly feeling the moment.

Stay Woke my Friend!